Peter's Reviews > Seize the Day

Seize the Day by Saul Bellow
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Apr 11, 11


I'm on a bit of a novella reading binge at the moment, in preparation for a class I'm teaching next fall. And if this temporary obsession brings me to more books like SEIZE THE DAY, maybe it will become a lasting obsession.

Reading Saul Bellow is dangerous business for a writer because unless you are one of about five living authors I can think of, your sentences will never be as beautiful as Saul Bellow's. In fact it might be best just to say that out loud before sitting down to write. As in "I am going to sit down to write now, and my sentences will never be as beautiful as Saul Bellow's." Then, at peace with that truth, you can begin to type.

I'm tempted to use an example here of one of the half-paragraph stunners that Bellow traffics in. Instead I'll list three one-sentence paragraphs that left me breathless.

"He breathed in the sugar of the pure morning.
He heard the long phrases of the birds,
No enemy wanted his life."

A little context might help explain why those lines hit with such force. So much of this book is in the churning consciousness of Tommy Wilhelm, and in his his Socratic dialogues with one of my favorite literary charlatans, Dr. Tamkin. Wilhelm worries. He worries about his worries. He seeks the smallest trace of affirmation from his fellow man. All the while he seems to revel in the misery he causes himself. Then he notices something about the world around him. "Light as a locust, a helicopter bringing in mail from Newark Airport to La Guardia sprang over the city in a long leap." Or: "In full tumult the great afternoon current raced for Columbus Circle, where the mouth of midtown stood open and the skyscrapers gave back the yellow fire of the sun." The world outside seems like a place of overwhelming beauty and overwhelming motion. Somewhere Wilhelm can no longer find his place.

We follow him as he journeys through a remarkably small part of this world, attempting to gain control of the present, but never quite able to touch it. It's a book that comes in great waves of talk, feeling, and the raw unconscious. An effective way to capture a true unraveling. A short potent dose of novella.
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Mia (new)

Mia Have you read "A Father's Story," Andre Dubus? That's one of my favorite novellas.


Peter No. But I'll put it on my list. Is it in a collection?


message 3: by Mia (new)

Mia That one's in "The Times Are Never So Bad." Narrative Magazine has a nice pdf of it online, too. "Adultery" (in the collection "Adultery and Other Choices") is a good one too. Sounds like a fun class.


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