This is my first Bellow read. Over the years I never bothered reading any of his books and overlooked them at the bookstores. This being my first volume was not that ecstatic.
The presented anthology of 13 stories come with a mix bag of history, humor, irony, metaphysics, the Holocaust, nostalgia, sex, modernity, migrant life in America and identity ; accompanied by a witty narration. Most of the characters be it Samuel Braun, Rob Rexler, Harry Fonstein, Woody Selbst, Katrina Goliger or Max Zetland are not the epitome of beauty but are unique in their own imperfections. Bellow has an exceptional artistry in metamorphosing mediocrity to splendor. His several protagonists are sort of heroic who overcome life fragilities and emerge as winners in their own way. Most of them are Jewish or other immigrants trying to find their identity on the American soil; similar to what Bellow experienced during his life. These stories have a personal Bellow touch reflecting many of his own perspectives on identity (he fought the constant labeling of being a “Jewish writer”) and modernity. In ‘The Old System’, he mentions, “Mankind was in a confusing uncomfortable, disagreeable stage in the evolution of consciousness”, which shows his disheartening acceptation of modernity. These stories bring out the essence of beauty and joy from the most unconventional settings.
That said and done, there are some disheartening shortcomings too. The narration is loose and needs trimming at certain edges, making it rather difficult to focus on the plot. The stories did have a solid start but somewhere in the middle it became a carnival of unexciting surroundings making me browse pages to find comfort. Also, Bellow’s portrayal of Sorella, Aunt Rose and even Max Zetland are filled with excessive and repetitive usage of adjectives to embellish human anatomy which tends to be a bit dragging. At times, I felt like erasing the characters from the highly subjective text.
One thing I detest while reading short stories is skipping pages and this is exactly what I did here. I do not want to be unjust and form a rapid opinion about Bellow based on this writing .I don’t deny that he is one the superior writers but this book failed to create that aura. Hence, I will read some more of his works before inferring whether Bellow is my ‘cup of tea’.