Top positive review
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Simply As A Book
on 20 December 2002
Other than this novel I have read only the recent collection of stories by Mr. Bellow. After reading many other reviews I felt as though if one were not aware of all the parallels of fact and metaphor that this book contains, a person would feel left out of the circle. I hope no one feels this way for even though I read this as a stand alone work without detailed knowledge of the author, his real life friends and their philosophical tilts, the book is a great piece of writing. Saul Bellow is considered one of the great writers on most people's list of favorites, so while knowing all the background may make the book a richer experience; on its own it stands beautifully.
This memoir about a writer who cannot write a memoir is full of philosophy, condemnation of anything other than the elevated thoughts of the day, and centers on a character who you will loathe, struggle to empathize with, or perhaps even like. Abe Ravelstein is a man who has made the ends of his life meet by constantly borrowing from one Peter to pay another Paul. When he does comes into substantial funds whatever joy the money gives him is limited as he is terminally ill.
There are a few ways a person can use their wealth especially when they know their time is severely limited. Abe becomes a modern day Bacchus; everything he does is to excess. And everyone around him sits at his knee, loathes him, or manipulates him into a demonstrable token of his affection, like a 75,000 BMW. The exception is, of course, the would be biographer who sees all of his friends excess and stands by him until the end. This does not stop him from occasionally describing behavior that goes beyond the extravagant to become plain ugly. In Paris he will spend 4,500 dollars on a new sport coat walk to the nearest café and proceed to dribble coffee down the front. He barely notices and when he does is unmoved.
Whether this is your first book by Mr. Bellow or not, have no fear. The book is wonderful stuff compared to much of what is on offer even is aficionados of his work may not find it his best.