Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Age does not wither Saul Bellow. The 84-year-old writer's new novel is echt Bellow--the grab-bag paragraphs stuffed with truculent observations; the comedic mix of admiration and rivalry that subtends the friendships of intellectual men; the impossible and possible wives. Abe Ravelstein, a professor at a well-known Midwestern college, is obviously modeled on the late Allan Bloom. To clinch the identification, Bellow's narrator, Chick, a writer 20 years older than Ravelstein, uses phrases to describe Ravelstein that are almost identical to phrases Bellow used about Bloom in his published eulogy. Like Bloom, Ravelstein operates his phone like a "command post," getting information from his former students in high positions in various governments. Like Bloom, Ravelstein writes a bestseller using his special brand of political philosophy to comment on American failings. And like Bloom, Ravelstein throws money around as if "from the rear end of an express train." In fact, Chick is so obsessed with the price of Ravelstein's possessions that at times the work reads like a garage sale of his student's effects. Ravelstein also spends lavishly on his boyfriend, Nikki, a princely young Singaporean. Chick's wife, at the beginning of the memoir, is Vela, an East European physicist. Ravelstein dislikes her, and suspects that her Balkan friends are anti-Semites. Eventually, Vela kicks Chick out of his house and divorces him (fans will not be surprised that Bellow, as seems to be his habit, makes this a thinly veiled attack on his ex-wife). Chick ends up marrying one of Ravelstein's students, Rosamund. When Ravelstein succumbs to AIDS, Chick mulls over his obligation to write a memoir of his friend, but he is blocked until he himself suffers a threatening illness. Chick's alternate navet and subconscious rivalry with Ravelstein is the subtext here. Amply rewarding, this late work from the Nobel laureate flourishes his inimitable linguistic virtuosity, combining intimations of mortality with gossipy tattle in a biting and enlightening narrative. First serial to the New Yorker. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review
The Nobel laureate's first full-length novel in more than a decade (since More Die of Heartbreak, 1987) is a pungent intellectual drama that's short on plot but contains some of the sharpest, most provocative writing of his long and honorable career. The narrator, identified only as ``Chick,'' is an elderly writer who relates'in a vigorous mixture of narrative, speculation, and reminiscence that sparkles with zesty combative dialogue'the story of his friendship with (the somewhat younger) Abe Ravelstein, a charismatic professor of political science who has become an international celebrity mage (``He interpreted Rousseau to the French, Machiavelli to the Italians, et cetera''), and authored an inexplicably bestselling ``summa'' of his ideas. Ravelstein, homosexual and dying of AIDS, has urged Chick to write a memoir of him. Their lives are intertwined in various ways (Chick's young second wife Rosamund, for example, was Ravelstein's prize student). But Chick is conflicted, knowing how much they also differ: he's a receiver of sensory impressions, an ontological observer for whom the physical world is a gift we spend our lives unwrapping; Ravelstein is an unregenerate theorist who insists men live guided by ``rational principles'' (despite overpowering evidence of his sensual appetite). Only after Ravelstein's death, when Chick himself nearly dies from a perversely ``accidental'' neurological illness, does the acolyte (for such he surely is) come closer to understanding the extent to which his hectoring ``teacher'' has also been his scourge, Platonic ``other half'' (seeking union), and conscience. Bellow tangles these lives and worldviews together brilliantly, in an essentially static drama that vibrates with paradoxical wit and submerged (though almost physically intense) feeling. It's mostly talk'but what talk! This is a novel that grabs you by the neck and forces you to think, and rewards you with a dazzling insight or superbly turned phrase or sentence on virtually every page. The work of a master, who has lost none of his unique ability to entertain, enthrall, and enlighten.
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