The Life of Saul Bellow: To Fame and Fortune, 1915–1964

Shehryar Fazli in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

513M-STsyDL._SY344_BO1204203200_Roland Barthes once said that “the only sort of interview that one could, if forced to, defend would be where the author is asked to articulate what he cannot write.” One could set a similar standard for the literary biography, demanding that it construe from the writer’s life what can’t be conveyed through his or her work. The less the author has concealed, the more redundant the biographer’s task. Saul Bellow will always pose a unique problem here because of how thoroughly he dissected his own life for the novels and short stories he published over the course of half a century. In his zeal to articulate himself, he seems to have left nothing for the interviewer, let alone the unfortunate biographer.

For decades after the 1953 publication of The Adventures of Augie March, Bellow was regularly deemed the preeminent American novelist. Although his readership has shrunk in the 21st century, a handful of passionate Bellowites, most of them British — Martin Amis, James Wood, Ian McEwan — have insured his continued presence in the literary conversation. With the centenary of his birth and the 10-year anniversary of his death, that conversation has picked up again, spurred by the publication of two new books: a collection of Bellow’s essays, reviews, interviews, and talks entitledThere Is Simply Too Much to Think About, edited by Benjamin Taylor; and the first fat volume of a two-part biography by Zachary Leader called The Life of Saul Bellow: To Fame and Fortune, 19151964.

The shadow of James Atlas’s authorized biography, titled Bellow: A Biography, hangs over this Season of Saul. Its appearance in 2000 disappointed many who felt that Atlas had kept a great writer “penned in his petty biographical yard,” in Wood’s description, reducing masterpieces like Herzog to the byproducts of love triangles, divorce, and revenge.

More here.