David Wolpe on Greg Bellow’s Memoir of His Father, Saul Bellow

David Wolpe in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

1366500043“I am a poor lost woof from the kennel of Fate looking for a dog to belong to.” The Bellow tone: This phrase from his letters gives us the winsome Bellow, seeking succor for his battered heart. This is Herzog the mess, trod upon by life; reading the letters (Saul Bellow: Letters, ed. Benjamin Taylor, 2012) we regularly come upon the Bellovian combination of demotic and exalted, Schopenhauer and sauerkraut, as if a teenage driver got hold of a high speed test car. Bellow’s style is street sophisticate, ornate and slangy, a tough dressed in tails, guided by a supernally shrewd intelligence that scoops up an entire character in a passing metaphor.

Bellow knew all this before we did, of course; each effect was written and rewritten, and his almost formless books are the messy, canny reflection of a remarkable mind. Still, he hides less than other authors, giving himself to his readers with both hands; this is not Joyce’s artist, like God beyond creation, paring his nails. This is the author as courtesan, beguiling us not only into reading, but loving him.

So what reader of Bellow does not wonder about the man? After James Atlas’s 2002 biography, widely panned, with its portrayal of an altogether unappealing philanderer, is there balm in Gilead?

“Our father was always easily angered, prone to argument, acutely sensitive, and palpably vulnerable to criticism.” Reading this sentence in Greg Bellow’s new memoir, Saul Bellow’s Heart, one remembers the saying attributed to a French King, “I would rather be killed by my enemies than by my children.” Maybe we should have stuck with Atlas.

More here.