Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Saul Bellow/HERZOG

47-year-old cultural scholar Moses Herzog has been kicked out of his house by his second wife, the beautiful and heartless Madeleine, and is now going through his version of a nervous breakdown--jobless (he'd abandoned his university position so Madeleine could relocate them to go back to school), friendless (Madeleine is now living with his ex-best friend, with whom she and his ex-shrink and ex-lawyer conspired to get her sole custody of his daughter), in a fantastic amount of debt (Madeleine continues to send her credit card bills to him, and he's sunk all his inheritance into the crumbling Berkshires cottage she made him buy), Herzog reconciles himself with his life by writing letters he'll never send to friends, acquaintances, strangers, celebrities, even dead philosophers.

Herzog was first published in 1964, and, from what I've heard and read, seems to be the peak product of Saul Bellow's literary career. Through the (I'm guessing) autobiographical gaze of the cerebral and emotional middle-aged Herzog, Saul Bellow really lets all his opinions about humanity, life, death, relationships, and meaningful pursuits unleash themselves on his reader, packing them into an extraordinarily thought-provoking novel. Although the plot is fairly minimal, there is rather more of a narrative drive than in some of his other books, making Herzog a little a more accessible.

If you haven't read Bellow before, I would say that his style is either for you or it's not. I can't go gallivanting through his novels; I really have to take my time, and often get frustrating with the characters, who are deeply (and self-indulgently) reflective and often extremely flawed. I've found, however, that my take-home feeling from his books is always very positive--I feel like my brain is sharper, and like I've learned something (or a lot of things) about human nature. Herzog has been, so far, my favorite (out of Henderson the Rain King, More Die of Heartbreak, and Ravelstein. I still have The Adventures of Augie March on my Gaps list, and I suspect I'll continue to read his books (maybe staggering them by a couple years or so, as I do!) so I'd be interested to hear if anyone else has read any others, and what your thoughts are.


Lisa said...

Glad you read it and I predict The Adventures of Augie March will replace this one as your favorite.

moonrat said...

ha! thanks, Lisa. that one IS a tome, though, so i think it will be another little while before i tackle it.

Marisa Birns said...

I had started reading Herzog years ago, and found--at that time-- that his style was not for me.

But, perhaps, now might be a good time to revisit and finish the story, and see whether my opinion changed, since I certainly have!

moonrat said...

well, Marisa, let us know if you do! there's a mini-stable full of Bellow readers here, so you'll know you have a happy place to talk about the good/bad/ugly.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Blech. I'm reading your review and thinking, "Is that what it was about?"

All I recall of it is small font (I bought my copy used from Leo, who was quite the character), large paragraphs, and sheer and utter boredom.

We actually also read Erica Jong and Portnoy (a book that needs no author's name attached to it. Or the other word in its title), but Herzog was the one that traumatized me. Yep, even over the liver. (If you read Portnoy, you know.)

Stephen Tiano said...

Hah! The liver. Hadn't thought about that in a dog's age. I'm not necessarily glad I remember it now.

corramcfeydon said...

I like a book that makes my brain feel sharper! I haven't tried this author yet. Have to wait until after 2015 I reckon. ;)


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