Bellow Schemes

Philip Roth and Saul Bellow hangin’ out.

On a summer afternoon in 1998, while I was visiting Saul Bellow and his wife, Janis, in their rural Vermont home, I proposed to Saul that he and I do an extensive written interview about his life’s work. We had been talking for hours on the deck at the rear of the house, along with other friends who’d driven to Vermont to see the Bellows—the Romanian writer Norman Manea and his wife, Cella, who is an art restorer, and the writer and teacher Ross Miller. The four of us tried to get up to Vermont for three or four days every summer because Saul demonstrably enjoyed our visits, and we had a good time together staying at a nearby inn. The conversation was sharp and excited, lots of lucid talk directed mostly at Saul—whose curiosity was all-embracing and for whom listening was a serious matter—and much hilarity about the wonders of human mischief, particularly as we evoked them around the dinner table at the Bellows’ favorite local restaurant, where Saul would throw back his head and laugh like a man blissfully delighted with everything. The older Saul got—and in ’98 he was eighty-three and growing frail—the more our annual pilgrimage resembled an act of religious devotion.