Lobstergirl's Reviews > Seize the Day

Seize the Day by Saul Bellow
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Aug 22, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: fiction
Read from August 22 to 23, 2010

Bellow is a treat even if you don't completely swoon over every novel in its entirety. His descriptions, his dialogue, his portrayals of humanity are so rich. This novella is told from the point of view of the increasingly shabby and morose failed actor and salesman, Tommy Wilhelm, but Bellow also lets us in on what his disapproving father, Dr. Adler, thinks.

Then Wilhelm had said, "Yes, that was the beginning of the end, wasn't it, Father?"

Wilhelm often astonished Dr. Adler. Beginning of the end? What could he mean - what was he fishing for? Whose end? The end of family life? The old man was puzzled but he would not give Wilhelm an opening to introduce his complaints. He had learned that it was better not to take up Wilhelm's strange challenges. So he merely agreed pleasantly, for he was a master of social behavior, and said, "It was an awful misfortune for us all."

He thought, What business has he to complain to me of his mother's death?


Another great passage: Wilhelm comes down to the lobby of the Hotel Gloriana where he lives, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He's the youngest resident in a building full of Jewish retirees, including his father. Rubin runs the lobby newsstand:

...As Wilhelm approached, Rubin did not see him; he was looking out dreamily at the Hotel Ansonia, which was visible from his corner, several blocks away. The Ansonia, the neighborhood's great landmark, was built by Stanford White. It looks like a baroque palace from Prague or Munich enlarged a hundred times, with towers, domes, huge swells and bubbles of metal gone green from exposure, iron fretwork and festoons. Black television antennae are densely planted on its round summits. Under the changes of weather it may look like marble or like sea water, black as slate in the fog, white as tufa in sunlight. This morning it looked like the image of itself reflected in deep water, white and cumulous above, with cavernous distortions underneath. Together, the two men gazed at it.


[Wikipedia notes that Bellow incorrectly attributed the Ansonia to Stanford White.:]

Cynthia Ozick makes an interesting comparison of Hemingway and Bellow in her introduction:

In 1953, Bellow's The Adventures of Augie March struck out on a course so independent from the tide of American fiction that no literary lessons could flow from it: it left no wake, and cut a channel so entirely idiosyncratic as to be uncopyable. Much earlier, Ernest Hemingway had engineered another radical divergence in the prose of the novel: having inherited the stylistic burden of the nineteenth century, with its elaborate "painting" of interiors and landscapes, its obligatory omniscience, and its essaylike moralizing, he mopped up the excess moisture ("clothing like curds," he called it) and lopped subordinate clauses and chopped dialogue and left little of the old forest of letters standing. An army of succinctness-seekers followed in a movement that accommodated two or three generations of imitators, until finally the distinctive Hemingway dryness flaked off into lifeless dessication. The Hemingway sentence became a kind of ancestral portrait on the wall, and died of too many descendants. Augie March, by contrast (though it had its own ancestors, not so much in style as in character), was in itself too fecund to produce epigones or copyists or offspring - as if every source and resource of procreation were already contained in, or used up by, its own internal energies.
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08/22/2010 page 113
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Comments (showing 1-10 of 10) (10 new)

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Ellen Haven't read this in ages, but you brought back some memories. Thanks, LG.


Lobstergirl You are welcome. I think I'm trying to ration the Bellow so I don't run out of newness.


message 3: by Petra Eggs (new)

Petra Eggs I used to love Bellow, but haven't thought of him in ages. Having read this, I think I might oder a few of his books (this one included).


Lobstergirl Great idea.


message 5: by Ken (new)

Ken I haven't read Bellow. Ever. Sooner or later, though, I'll seize a day and make Saul hay....


Ellen Newengland wrote: "I haven't read Bellow. Ever. Sooner or later, though, I'll seize a day and make Saul hay...."

I think you'd like Bellow, NE. Now I'm hoping that isn't the kiss of death. I recommended The Idiot to Jason, and he hated it :).


message 7: by Ken (new)

Ken Well, I like Hemingway, as you know, and Lobsterwoman said Bellow is the anti-Hemingway.

Dostoevsky's Idiot is certainly not his best effort. And you need to be a certain type to love, love, love Dostoevsky -- especially when there's talent around like Tolstoy's.


Lobstergirl No, I didn't say it, Cynthia Ozick did. She sort of said that.

I don't know if I'd start reading Bellow with Seize the Day. Herzog might be better; that's where I started.


message 9: by Andrew (new) - added it

Andrew Schirmer Just fantastic. Thanks for the review/amalgamation. I'll be sure to get the edition with Ozick's introduction.


Lobstergirl Enjoy!


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