This morning I am shocked and saddened to see that Saul Bellow has died at the age of 89. Bellow, recipient of the 1976 Nobel Prize for Literature, was one of the greatest American authors.
Bellow's books are challenging, and I don't recommend them to light or casual readers. But if love language and ideas, and you want to explore the full potential of a novel, The Adventures of Augie March, Mr. Sammler's Planet, The Dean's December, Henderson the Rain King, or my personal favorite, Humboldt's Gift are waiting for you. His novellas and short stories are also brilliant. Of those, my favorite is A Theft. I also loved Ravelstein, Bellow's love poem to his great friend Allan Bloom.
Bellow's work isn't easily summarized; it would take a more experienced literary critic (and a lot more work than I could do this morning) to do him anything resembling justice. The New York Times memoralizes him here.
All I'll say is that Bellow wrote about the human condition, about people grappling with the 20th Century. Dense, thoughtful novels, rich with philosophy, ambiguity and also a wry humor. Though his novels always look at the world with clear and open eyes, he always gives us the gift of hope. His use of language is masterful. When I'm reading Bellow, one sentence, one phrase, will just stop me in my tracks. I'll read it over and over, marveling at the perfect - and original - picture it paints. He was a genius.
It's sometimes difficult to see a contemporary figure with any historical perspective. I saw Bellow read, twice, at venues where many less important - though very good - writers also take the stage. I'm so fortunate for that. I'm very sorry there won't be any new Saul Bellow novels to look forward to.
This tribute might underscore the total absence in wmtc of another person who died recently, and whose death has dominated the news. This is not an accident.