Saul Bellow Critical Essays

Saul Bellow Critical Essays-51
In some sense, the canonical status of Bellow is already assured, even if the indubitable book is still to come.

In some sense, the canonical status of Bellow is already assured, even if the indubitable book is still to come. Bellow’s strengths may not have come together to form a masterwork, but he is hardly the first novelist of real eminence whose books may be weaker as aggregates than in their . The quick death of (set in a ‘shenaniganed Africa’, one critic observed) with wry owlishness and show-off facility, a reader-pleasing set of cape flourishes and diamond dazzle.

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Leader might have profited from heeding a couple of cautionary flags that were raised by someone in the know.

In 2017, Atlas, still smarting over the bruising reception of , in which he retraced his path and recounted every misstep and miscue in his dealings with Bellow to account for the bungling of what could have been a beautiful Johnson-Boswell partnership.

Sure, the liberal arts are swell, but what good is book-learning in a showdown against the mightily hung?

In an interesting twist, Leader discloses that the original model for the chief exhibit in belonged not to some real-life totem of black prowess but to the boyfriend of Bellow’s on-again, off-again girlfriend Maggie Staats: a smelly, filthy Frenchman who funked up the joint but compensated by being prodigiously endowed. Imagination ablaze, Bellow quizzed Maggie about her lover’s package, ‘pressing her for details, about size, shape, colour’, as if trying to plaster-cast it in his mind.

Haunted by the past, assaulted by the present, his world seems drawn in charcoal and ash.

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The spectre of urban apocalypse preying on Sammler’s mind – race war, radical terrorism, collapsing infrastructure, rampant crime and psychosis in the streets, phone booths used as urinals, the entire city as a running sore – finds its locus in a soigné black pickpocket in a camel-hair coat who, as the pièce de résistance after isolating and robbing Sammler, forces the old man to look down as he exposes himself.

‘Over the past ten or 15 years,’ Julian Moynihan announced in the grew too loud, ‘I can always stuff my ears with money.’ Success radiated like a post-coital glow, but failure also took a bite, as if to remind that the gods giveth and the gods taketh away.

The literary triumph of , which opened and closed on Broadway within a month, done in by miscasting in the central role and poor notices pointing out that it wasn’t so much a play as a fluffed-up monologue – a lumpy filibuster.

‘When she read , Maggie immediately recognised that Bellow had turned her Frenchman into the black pickpocket. “You can use what you want,” he answered.’ Meaning: I can use what I want.

Bellow knew exactly what he was doing when he had the thief release the black mamba, the provocative shudder it would send. A grad student at the University of Chicago in the 1970s, Staples had devoured Bellow’s fiction and committed long passages to heart, sopped up all the local gossip about Chicago’s fedora’d laureate – idealised him something mad.


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