Saul Bellow

“This is a superb biography. Yet it begins in the most inauspicious place. It is 1964, and Saul Bellow has just become absurdly rich and famous. His struggle, doubt, grit, immigrant story, artistic dreams — all were told in Volume 1 of Zachary Leader’s biography, To Fame and Fortune. Here in Volume 2, Love and Strifethe novel Herzog is published on the very first page and reaches “No. 1 on the best-seller list, supplanting John le Carré’s The Spy Who Came In From the Cold.” Never again would Bellow, about to turn 50 years old, lack for wealth, power, awards or flunkies to stand by him, ready to take his coat and do his bidding. The temptation for someone in his position was to become an insufferable, spoiled monster.”

The New York Times

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— TLS (Subscription Access)

Ann Basu discusses how Philip Roth reveals the contradictions at the heart of American identity
Ann Basu, States of Trial: Manhood in Philip Roth's Post-War America (Bloomsbury, 2016)
Ann Basu, States of Trial: Manhood in Philip Roth’s Post-War America (Bloomsbury, 2016)

What motivated you to write States of Trial?

My imagination was lit, in particular, by the historical perspectives of Roth’s American Trilogy: American Pastoral, (1997) I Married a Communist (1998) and The Human Stain (2000) as well as its forerunner, Operation Shylock (1993) and a slightly later novel, The Plot Against America (2004). I became fascinated by how Roth tests narratives about both national and male identity to the point of destruction, uncovering the contradictions within concepts of American identity. Roth displays a powerful sense of conflicting historical forces impacting on personal identity, combining this with portraits of individuals tormented by contradictions in their own lives; contradictions that may both stretch and limit them. I found these major late-career novels compelling and wanted to write about them. The trial, a resonant concept in terms of American history and personal identity with its connotations of testing, suffering and also experimentation, was a good lens, I thought. It was productive for me, anyway. (more…)

saulbellow
Saul Bellow
He’d work long hours, stopping only for a sandwich at lunch, now and again a five-minute yogic headstand against the bookcase, maybe tea in the afternoon. We know that stamina and persistence are essential ingredients of great art, don’t we? Saul was in fighting trim. That gorgeous prose, with its sinewy elegant hilarity and syncopated rhythmic intensity—you don’t think it was composed by a slob with poor muscle tone, do you? Still, there was plenty of time for unwinding and for talk. About everything under the sun—art, music, politics, cats and dogs, friends and enemies, and of course novels and novelists. He was scandalized I hadn’t yet read Frank Norris, or Kawabata, and followed up to make sure I remedied the lack. A magical teacher.

(more…)

An essay by the American novelist Philip Roth, first written in the 1960s
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Photograph: Saul Leiter
Several winters back, while I was living in Chicago, the city was shocked and mystified by the death of two teen-age girls. So far as I know the populace is mystified still; as for the shock, Chicago is Chicago, and one week’s dismemberment fades into the next’s. The victims this particular year were sisters. They went off one December night to see an Elvis Presley movie, for the sixth or seventh time we are told, and never came home. Ten days passed and fifteen and twenty, and then the whole bleak city, every street and alley, was being searched for the missing Grimes girls, Pattie and Babs. (more…)