This book has warts – oh, does it have warts…! Like Moses Herzog himself, this book is marred and marked with warts…. But it is a book of genius nonetheless – and not just in parts, but in whole – in scope and in depth….
I rarely write reviews about fiction – I’m not a literary type. One of the very few I’ve written worth reading is that of The Sun Also Rises. Fiction is not amenable to the type of analysis that comes most naturally to me.
Besides, I’ve only been reading fiction, after a long hiatus, for a year or two -- so really…, what’s to say?
But since most of my GR friends who liked this book have not commented on it; while those who have, mostly don’t like it – I feel I need to say something in defense of poor Herzog.
When I started this, I had the sinking feeling I had when I tried to read Henderson, The Rain King – many, many years ago. Something just didn’t click. Bellow’s names sound (indeed, they *are*) artificial – something that bugs me no end in a book…; and it’s hard to construct a universe in the opening pages, in any event – so that one has doubts early on…. And so, I almost gave up.
But that would have been a great mistake. For this is a large book, a book written ‘in grandi dimensioni’.
Andre Gide (I think it was) commented about Dostoevsky that, in his novels, ideas became flesh. He was thinking of The Brothers Karamazov, as I recall. And indeed, of the postwar American novelists, Bellow perhaps comes closest to this – as his characters not only ‘represent’ ideas, but utterly *live* them, engage them, struggle with them, breath them, exude them… – not only intellectually (though that, of course!), but also as LIVED maxims, as lived DILEMMAS… It is a philosophy of life, he wants… a philosophy FOR life that he seeks – one steeped in our historical moment, of course, because the hallmark of modernity is, after all, its historicity…. And by this enormously ambitious standard, Bellow – and already the Bellow of Herzog – succeeds admirably, brilliantly, convincingly… in bringing modern, urban, cosmopolitan – that is, Jewish intellectuals onto the tragicomic stage that was, perhaps, in one sense – that of the hyper-learned, sensate, quivering, irreverent, sexualized, incandescent, doubting, longing intellectual of late modernity – that of Freud made flesh in the bookstalls of the Upper West Side – the peak and apex of Western modernity -- a modernity, indeed, a West..., now in terminal decline.
Well… what can I say…? I wax nostalgic….
But a rich and wonderful book…. warts and all.