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on 23 July 2007
Harry Trellman is the narrator and the story is essentially one of recuperating a long lost love, of making amends over lost opportunities. In between the reader is introduced to various characters from a morally dubious world and is treated to various wry observations from Harry.

As others have already pointed out, not much happens in this novella. It's the first work I have read by Bellow and really isn't the best introduction. The narrative is clevery woven together and it is well written. However, upon finishing it, one is left with the distinct impression that there really was not much point to it.

There are a few glimpses which suggest a far more interesting novel could have been written if it had been fleshed out a little more.
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on 11 November 2011
My Penguin edition of this short novel has a quote on the cover from some Daily Telegraph reviewer telling us that this is 'an apoplectically funny book'. I don't know how the poor fellow gets through his days - he must spend all his time creased over with mirth if he found this so hilarious. Presumably he has to avoid anything remotely close to comedy for fear of laughing his head off.

I don't think I've ever read a book I'd describe as 'apoplectically funny', and if I have it certainly isn't this one. This little tale about nothing much - a sort of reminiscence by a man getting on in years about a lost love - is mildly amusing in places, and really that's about it. There's no plot as such, and not much of a story - the funeral of a mutual friend brings Harry together with his old flame Amy, the only woman he ever loved. They talk.

Bellow writes well as always, but this is pretty lightweight stuff - rambling and repetitive and even then only a hundred pages. It would never have been published if he wasn't an established writer. If you want Bellow at his best, try 'Herzog'.
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on 25 August 1997
Although Bellow (as usual) manages to navigate a perfect course through the nebulous region between material, modern life and the life of the mind, he leaves us with what I thought was a curious, romantic ending. Ironic as a wedding proposal at an ex's disinterment may be, I'm not sure how Trellman was finally able to participate outwardly in the emotional world he seemed able only to observe and catalog. There's certainly some value in understanding the meaning of this final puzzle in what is a rich, engaging read.
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on 4 August 1997
In The Actual, Bellow touches on the major intellectual themes of the late twentieth century: materialism, capitalism, existentialism, nihilism, and postmodernism. Bellow once again, consciously or unconsciously, tells a great story placed in the philosophic world of actuality, where the individual, the particular, the personal triumphs over modernism's desire to subsume the part into the whole. Bellow uses the romantic genre to discuss these themes while flashing the caution light of pragmatism. A pragmatism that says existentialism can be nihilism, materialism creates numbness, captialism demands consumption, and love becomes a carnival unless anchored in the heart and objectified in an "other".
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on 28 March 1998
While there is little disputing Saul Bellow's remarkable gifts at capturing reality and creating amazingly dense and believable characters, I find it a bit disheartening to believe that this truly gifted writer has grown trite in his old age. Without giving it away, the ending to this novella is simply devastating. All of the depth and beauty of this story is lost, for me, in one line. I find it equally dissappointing to discover the Saul Bellow suffers from, what I like to refer to as, the Fitzgerald syndrome. That is to say that the main characters in all his stories seem to be, roughly, the same person. Harry Tellman, in this story, seems to be Eugene Henderson (the Rain King) and Tommy Wilhelm ("Seize the Day") revisited. My recommendation, read the story, because it is quite good, just skip the last line.
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on 2 April 1998
A man moves back home to Chicago and into semi-retirement. We all have ghosts from our past, but Harry's ghosts, we come to understand, revolve around a lady he has known since junior high. As he reconciles himself to his past, and to these ghosts, Harry arrives gracefully, bravely, at the only logical conclusion there is for him. The journey there is pure poetry, and Bellow's work in the smaller novella form is a gift to us all. We need to cherish this book and learn its quiet, solid lessons. I read it twice straight through so I could savor its opening pages all the more.
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on 2 July 1998
I was very excited to be able to sit down and read this book last night, but found myself an hour later with the book finished before I felt that it had started. There were a few good lines, but nothing that made me want to stop and reflect. It would have made a good first section of a novel, but the characters never developed enough for my taste.
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on 14 June 2000
The synopsis above says it all. Many people consider Bellow to be one of the world's greatest novellists, but this one passed me by. I think I must have missed something. It's readable enough, but the meaning and purpose eluded me.
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on 21 June 1997
I've never read Saul Bellow, and my lit-geek friends have made me feel self-conscious. So I decided to give this novella a try. I've called it a "Port of Entry" into Saul Bellow's world.

I was immediately drawn to his vivid descriptions of Chicago. Why has my "home city" never looked so good? Mr. Bellow uses the landscape of Chicago not only to give the reader an excellent view of a cool city, he help strengthen the reader's ties to his characters. I love Harry Trellman more because he exemplifies Chicago. HE IS MR. CHICAGO!!

Anyway, read this book. It rules.

L. Syrek

hamonrye@primary.net
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Nothing much happens. As you'd expect from Bellow, this purposeless aimless meandering is well observed and well written...
If your friend has a copy, borrow it and while away (half) an afternoon. But save your money for Bellow's better works.
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