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Novels 1984–2000: What Kind of Day Did You Have? / More Die of Heartbreak / A Theft / The Bellarosa Connection / The Actual / Ravelstein

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By the 1980s Saul Bellow—winner of three National Book Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, and the Nobel Prize in Literature—had been celebrated for three decades as a writer of towering significance. In his career’s final phase, he remained an uproarious comic storyteller, a provocative thinker, and a magnificent prose stylist. But the later Bellow could also surprise his readers, By the 1980s Saul Bellow—winner of three National Book Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, and the Nobel Prize in Literature—had been celebrated for three decades as a writer of towering significance. In his career’s final phase, he remained an uproarious comic storyteller, a provocative thinker, and a magnificent prose stylist. But the later Bellow could also surprise his readers, above all in Ravelstein, an unforgettable depiction of his friend Allan Bloom. This remarkable novel, an instant classic when published in 2000, joins five works from the 1980s and 1990s in this concluding installment of The Library of America’s four-volume edition of Bellow’s complete novels. “If the soul is the mind at its purest, best, clearest, busiest, profoundest,” Cynthia Ozick wrote in a 1984 review of the short masterpiece What Kind of Day Did You Have?, “then Bellow’s charge has been to restore the soul to American literature.” Taking up his characteristic themes of the life of the mind and the unruly needs of the body, Bellow traces a day in the life of art critic Victor Wulpy, “one of the intellectual captains of the modern world,” who during a lecture trip to Buffalo impulsively summons his mistress to join him—and a snowstorm turns a routine flight home into a trying odyssey. Similar concerns are explored on a larger canvas in More Die of Heartbreak (1987), in which a renowned botanist and his nephew explore their complicated (and largely disastrous) entanglements with women and the even more bewildering spectacle of contemporary America, “that terrific posthistorical enterprise carrying our destinies.” Three short works show Bellow’s skillful use of the novella form. In A Theft (1989), a banal incident involving a missing ring becomes the catalyst for fashion editor Clara Velde to understand “who it is that’s at the middle of me.” The Bellarosa Connection (1989), a searching inquiry into the power and limits of memory, tells the tale of a Holocaust survivor determined to meet his rescuer. The Actual (1997), according to Bellow a book “about the tenacity of early affections,” is the moving story of an aging antiquities dealer who reencounters an old flame. In Ravelstein, his last book, Bellow created one of his most indelible characters. Abe Ravelstein is a professor of political philosophy and an intellectual celebrity whose taste for worldly pleasures—designer suits, Cuban cigars, and exquisite young men—is as expansive as his erudition. Falling ill and facing death, he asks his friend Chick to write his biography, which emerges in fits and starts but ultimately grasps the essence of this extraordinary man. As critic Stanley Crouch has written, Ravelstein “attempts to answer the question central to all human communities: What does it mean to be civilized?”


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By the 1980s Saul Bellow—winner of three National Book Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, and the Nobel Prize in Literature—had been celebrated for three decades as a writer of towering significance. In his career’s final phase, he remained an uproarious comic storyteller, a provocative thinker, and a magnificent prose stylist. But the later Bellow could also surprise his readers, By the 1980s Saul Bellow—winner of three National Book Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, and the Nobel Prize in Literature—had been celebrated for three decades as a writer of towering significance. In his career’s final phase, he remained an uproarious comic storyteller, a provocative thinker, and a magnificent prose stylist. But the later Bellow could also surprise his readers, above all in Ravelstein, an unforgettable depiction of his friend Allan Bloom. This remarkable novel, an instant classic when published in 2000, joins five works from the 1980s and 1990s in this concluding installment of The Library of America’s four-volume edition of Bellow’s complete novels. “If the soul is the mind at its purest, best, clearest, busiest, profoundest,” Cynthia Ozick wrote in a 1984 review of the short masterpiece What Kind of Day Did You Have?, “then Bellow’s charge has been to restore the soul to American literature.” Taking up his characteristic themes of the life of the mind and the unruly needs of the body, Bellow traces a day in the life of art critic Victor Wulpy, “one of the intellectual captains of the modern world,” who during a lecture trip to Buffalo impulsively summons his mistress to join him—and a snowstorm turns a routine flight home into a trying odyssey. Similar concerns are explored on a larger canvas in More Die of Heartbreak (1987), in which a renowned botanist and his nephew explore their complicated (and largely disastrous) entanglements with women and the even more bewildering spectacle of contemporary America, “that terrific posthistorical enterprise carrying our destinies.” Three short works show Bellow’s skillful use of the novella form. In A Theft (1989), a banal incident involving a missing ring becomes the catalyst for fashion editor Clara Velde to understand “who it is that’s at the middle of me.” The Bellarosa Connection (1989), a searching inquiry into the power and limits of memory, tells the tale of a Holocaust survivor determined to meet his rescuer. The Actual (1997), according to Bellow a book “about the tenacity of early affections,” is the moving story of an aging antiquities dealer who reencounters an old flame. In Ravelstein, his last book, Bellow created one of his most indelible characters. Abe Ravelstein is a professor of political philosophy and an intellectual celebrity whose taste for worldly pleasures—designer suits, Cuban cigars, and exquisite young men—is as expansive as his erudition. Falling ill and facing death, he asks his friend Chick to write his biography, which emerges in fits and starts but ultimately grasps the essence of this extraordinary man. As critic Stanley Crouch has written, Ravelstein “attempts to answer the question central to all human communities: What does it mean to be civilized?”

45 review for Novels 1984–2000: What Kind of Day Did You Have? / More Die of Heartbreak / A Theft / The Bellarosa Connection / The Actual / Ravelstein

  1. 4 out of 5

    Christian Schwoerke

    ***nota bene: I have not read the entire volume, only the novella What Kind of Day Did You Have? and Ravelstein (though in another edition). Nonetheless, I wanted to record my thoughts about the novella, with the intent in future to add to this review when I read other of this volume’s contents.*** Bellow’s novels are sloppy and baggy, with a lot of padding and loose-fitting bits, but that’s a good thing when you enjoy his muscular, assertive, and casually high-toned use of simile, metaphor, allu ***nota bene: I have not read the entire volume, only the novella What Kind of Day Did You Have? and Ravelstein (though in another edition). Nonetheless, I wanted to record my thoughts about the novella, with the intent in future to add to this review when I read other of this volume’s contents.*** Bellow’s novels are sloppy and baggy, with a lot of padding and loose-fitting bits, but that’s a good thing when you enjoy his muscular, assertive, and casually high-toned use of simile, metaphor, allusion to thinkers whose aims are to refine enlightenment thought, ode-like invocations of physical sensuality, and considerations of a spiritual immanence. In a Bellow novel like Humboldt’s Gift, the story slops around with subsidiary elements that compose the jerry-rigged messiness of Bellow’s world, where there are no real resolutions, only intervals of relative calm. In this novella, Bellow has contrived to include all of the elements of his novels in a single event (which, nonetheless, blows up with messy mental asides and narrative complications)—and he does something I’ve not seen before, actually attempt to write from the point of view of one of the women who adore the aging Bellovian genius, typically the protagonist or cynosure, whose wisdom and erudition are constantly at odds with real-life events and his lecherous indulgences. Throughout the complications of dealing with the flight from Schenectady back to Chicago with her aged lover, the protagonist—Katrina Goliger, a divorcee fighting with her vindictive ex over the children—is wondering if she’s cut out to be the muse and consolation to this great thinker. There are sometimes intrusions in the novel of Victor Wulpy’s own thoughts and sensibility, and these appear as ironic counterpoint to Katrina’s assessment of things. There is no real call to have Wulpy’s consciousness intrude, and I felt it might have been reflex rather than calculation that prompted Bellow to share Wulpy’s thoughts/sensibility. In this short novella, there is all of Bellow’s swaggering style and effusions, narrative complexity (and bagginess), and a different perspective—all with the additional virtue of its coming to rest in a reasonable amount of time (ie, a long single sitting).

  2. 4 out of 5

    Ken Ryu

    This is a beast. It looked innocent enough but 10-point font with dense paragraphs and 800+ pages makes for a heavy lift. This work shows a late 60s+ man reflecting on his life with a series of novellas. 1. What Kind of Day Did You Have? A famous writer asks his mistress to meet him while he is lecturing out of town. 2. More Die of Heartbreak This is the story of the close relationship between a man and his famous botanist uncle. His uncle travels the world in search of interesting flora and fauna This is a beast. It looked innocent enough but 10-point font with dense paragraphs and 800+ pages makes for a heavy lift. This work shows a late 60s+ man reflecting on his life with a series of novellas. 1. What Kind of Day Did You Have? A famous writer asks his mistress to meet him while he is lecturing out of town. 2. More Die of Heartbreak This is the story of the close relationship between a man and his famous botanist uncle. His uncle travels the world in search of interesting flora and fauna to research. Both the narrator and his uncle have many romances, almost all that ended up disastrous. The uncle is faced with yet another romantic question and has to decide to commit or take flight. 3. A Theft A divorcee has a valuable emerald ring. It is an engagement ring from an ex. This wealthy lady values the ring for its sentimental value. It's market value is a mere pittance relative to her immense wealth. She accuses her nanny's Haitian boyfriend for the disappearance and sends the nanny away. Was she correct in her conjecture? Will she get the ring back? What will happen with the foreign nanny? 4. The Bellarosa Connection A persecuted Jew Fonstein is saved by the stage actor Billy Rose. Billy uses his plays in Europe to conceal an underground railroad system that transfers Jews to safe countries during WWII. In America, Fonstein desperately attempts to meet Billy to thank him in person, but Billy has no interest in receiving him. 5. The Actual This is story about a grave. An ultra-wealthy woman named Amy's husband is buried in her family's plot. Her still living nonagenarian father never liked his son-in-law and wants the plot back. The narrator of the story, Harry, was friends with Amy and her husband. Harry had a crush on Amy as a young man. Through a chance encounter they meet again as Amy is managing the reburial of her husband. 6. Ravelstein [read this one!] This a story of an enduring friendship between two successful writer/professors. Ravelstein asks his friend Chick to write his story after he dies. He agrees. The story covers their friendship, Chick's many marriages and Ravelstein's life and homosexuality. There are connecting and stylistic themes that connect these stories. - Judaism, - Nihilism, - Divorce, - Romance. The Jewish experience in America and during the Holocaust are common themes. Intellectuals and wealthy characters are well represented. Divorce and LOTS of divorces are recurring themes. Love, romance, death, unhappiness, aging and reflections are at the heart of the stories. Philosophical musings are interwoven throughout with most characters believing in a nihilistic view of existence. This is an indulgent romp from a giant of literature who has the talent and the security to write stories that suit his fancy. Fans of "Augie March" and "Herzog" will find the aging writer's reflections short on intensity and intrigue. I fall into this category. The stories are Proustian memories that end abruptly. The one story I truly enjoyed was the last, "Ravelstein". Both Chick and Ravelstein are well defined. The autobiographical nature of the story gives an intimate view into the life and thoughts of one of America's greatest authors. The stories use a symphonic method. Circular themes are repeated and the novellas flow into each other like movements in a larger piece. It is an interesting technique. If you make it all the way to "Ravelstein" you will appreciate these connections. Individually, the novellas are too short and abrupt. Combined in this 6 novella set, it works though will likely appeal to only a small set of readers. My favorite Bellow is "Augie March". I highly recommend that first before tackling this one.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Robert Hubbard

    The writing is excellent, of course. His characters are hard for me to know because they live lives so alien to mine. I am an ordinary person? It is hard to connect with extraordinary persons. The persons if significant achievement are rare in my world.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Aveugle Vogel

    "the diameter of this throbbing" "the diameter of this throbbing"

  5. 5 out of 5

    Waleed

    It's difficult to avoid the conclusion that Bellow fell off after winning the Nobel Prize in 1976. None of these novels and novellas are a patch on Bellow's mid-period. What Kind of Day Did You Have? 2/5 More Die of Heartbreak 3/5 A Theft 2/5 The Bellarosa Connection 4/5 The Actual 3/5 Ravelstein 4/5 Probably the best of the collection It's difficult to avoid the conclusion that Bellow fell off after winning the Nobel Prize in 1976. None of these novels and novellas are a patch on Bellow's mid-period. What Kind of Day Did You Have? 2/5 More Die of Heartbreak 3/5 A Theft 2/5 The Bellarosa Connection 4/5 The Actual 3/5 Ravelstein 4/5 Probably the best of the collection

  6. 4 out of 5

    Mills College Library

    Fiction B448n 2014

  7. 5 out of 5

    Eryn Michelle Carlson

  8. 5 out of 5

    Yinzadi

  9. 5 out of 5

    Robert Lashley

  10. 4 out of 5

    Gregg Brown

  11. 5 out of 5

    Joshua

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

  13. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Lambert

  14. 4 out of 5

    Paolo PP

  15. 4 out of 5

    Liquidlasagna

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

  17. 4 out of 5

    Bob Dixon

  18. 5 out of 5

    Abigail

  19. 5 out of 5

    Merry

  20. 5 out of 5

    Chas

  21. 5 out of 5

    Gary Beck

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ed Grimmer

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Hurl

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jur

  25. 4 out of 5

    Joseph-Daniel Peter Paul Abondius

  26. 4 out of 5

    Fanny

  27. 5 out of 5

    Tracy Myint

  28. 4 out of 5

    Don

  29. 5 out of 5

    Eric

  30. 4 out of 5

    Lucy Griggs

  31. 4 out of 5

    Catherine

  32. 5 out of 5

    Allison

  33. 4 out of 5

    Nathan Szajnberg

  34. 5 out of 5

    Lou

  35. 4 out of 5

    Ralph Glebe

  36. 5 out of 5

    Brian Bailey

  37. 4 out of 5

    Susan Decker

  38. 5 out of 5

    Louise

  39. 4 out of 5

    Ron Gelber

  40. 5 out of 5

    Kiki

  41. 5 out of 5

    Anne

  42. 5 out of 5

    Fiona Scott

  43. 5 out of 5

    Richard

  44. 4 out of 5

    Chris

  45. 4 out of 5

    Bruce

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