Trying Bellow again

I've just gotten into Saul Bellow's zany opus, Humboldt's Gift. (1975, New York, The Viking Press). Immensely clever, with translingual puns and sly (sometimes) references to everything a litteratus should be expected to have read, from Zinoviev to Whitehead, built on a loony premise. It has long been on my list of "Famous Books I Really Should Read," but I'd been putting it off because I'd been so disappointed with a much earlier book of his. I'll let you know what I think of this one when I finish it. Meanwhile, here is what I wrote about the earlier one when I read it 8 years ago.

Bellow, Saul (1956). Seize the Day. New York, The Viking Press.
A feckless fool has a really bad day. Clumsy, paunchy, 40-something Tommy Wilhelm, a failure as a salesman, soldier (he's an undistinguished WWII vet), actor (he was an extra in 1 movie long ago, when he was still handsome but no brighter), son (his distinguished father, a retired physician, finds him repulsive) & husband (his estranged wife will not divorce him, nor let him have much time with their sons, but squeezes him for money he doesn't have), entrusts his last $700 to an extravagant old con man, Dr. Tamkin (who may not be a real doctor), who gambles it on lard futures & disappears when the investment crashes.Tommy then stumbles into a funeral and weeps so at the futility of it all, the others think he must be a relative of the deceased. The end. All this takes place on upper Broadway, between 70th & Columbia U., in Bellow's version an urban shtetl inhabited entirely by middle-aged & older Jewish men. Dr. Tamkin is amusing, but otherwise there's nothing here to merit the extravagant blurbs; if it was "one of the central stories of our day" (Herbert Gold, The Nation) back in the '50s, it's neither central nor much of a story today (April, 1997).

1 comment:

RD Larson said...

I tried to read Don Quixote and failed. I do think you're brilliant and fair so this should be more fun. Trans-lingual puns? Now that's a new trip.

Also enjoyed Legislating Life -- I agree. What is going on? I've got a bit up at Useless_Knowledge.com today or tomorrow about the media lies.