In this novel approach to author Saul Bellow’s work, Mikics (Slow Reading in a Hurried Age) centers his study of influence and literary criticism around some of the key figures in the Nobel laureate’s life. The story begins with Morrie Bellow, Saul’s volatile older brother and father figure. Morrie effectively abandons Saul, but Saul cannot resist trying to make sense of his brother through fiction. Mikics illuminates Bellow’s sometimes misunderstood relationship with Ralph Ellison and uses textual examples to show how each writer encouraged and influenced the other. Likewise, Bellow’s transformation of poet Delmore Schwartz into the character Von Humboldt Fleisher of Humboldt’s Gift relies on Schwartz’s writing as much as his forceful personality. Bellow used aspects of his close friend Edward Shils in his works, most prominently in Mr. Sammler’s Planet, but perhaps the clearest case of a character stepping from reality into fiction is Allen Bloom becoming the eponymous protagonist of Ravelstein. In this final novel, Bellow “ennobled Bloom,” and Mikics shows how Bellow turned Bloom’s combination of high-culture ideas and rumpled, professorial attitudes into one of the most memorable literary characters of the past 50 years. Mikics’s larger thesis is that Bellow’s writing exalts personality, and the sheer variety and depth of the real personalities he studies in this book deftly support that framework. Agent: Chris Calhoun, Chris Calhoun Agency. (May)
In his fresh and lively portraits of a number of leading figures in Saul Bellow’s life, David Mikics has found a particularly appealing and revealing angle on Bellow’s work. This is an exhilarating excursus into the alchemy that transforms close observation and indelible recollection into deeply felt fictional portraiture.
Bellow’s People is an immensely winning bookincisive, vivid, and enjoyable, a feast for scholars and the general reader alike.
Saul Bellow’s novels are full of outsized characters, extravagant talkers, and flamboyant operatorsnot to mention a few rogues. What David Mikics shows is that Bellow’s life was full of them too, operatic personalities who in this sharp and wonderful portrait are every bit as vivid as those on the novelist’s own pages… Bellow’s People demonstrates where art ends and life begins.
Personality! Leave it to the brilliant David Mikics to find the perfect key to open up Saul Bellow’s work. Bellow is our great literary artist of Personality! Mikics himself writes with the flair of a strong and vivid personality and creates a book of high good humor that is well worthy of Bellow.
Mikics (Moores Distinguished Professor of English, Univ. of Houston; Slow Reading in a Hurried Age) adds a new and different approach to the vast body of research on author Saul Bellow. He examines in depth many of Bellow's major novels (The Adventures of Augie March, Humboldt's Gift, Ravelstein, etc.), but from the perspective of the persons he knew (friends, family, his spouses, fellow writers) and how he used their personalities and idiosyncrasies to create their fictional counterparts. Among the real-life individuals examined are Bellow's brother, Morrie, his wife, Sondra, and her love affair with his best friend Jack Ludwig, and writers such as Ralph Ellison and Delmore Schwartz. Mikics acknowledges his debt to other biographies of Bellow (such as those by Zachary Leader and James Atlas), as well as collections of Bellow's letters and essays. In addition, he has interviewed colleagues and relatives, such as Alexandra Ionescu Tulcea Bellow, the author's second wife. All in all, this is a compact but densely researched literary study that may not provide many fresh insights but does make clear where Bellow found the models for his most fascinating characters. VERDICT Recommended for anyone interested in 20th-century American fiction and in the achievements of Bellow. For all collections.—Morris Hounion, New York City Coll. of Technology, Brooklyn
How to access the novels of Saul Bellow (1915-2005) via the people he knew and loved. Looking over the titles of Bellow's novels, one notices how many include the names of their main characters: Augie March, Henderson, Herzog, Sammler, Humboldt, and Ravelstein. He was a character-driven novelist. As Mikics (English/Univ. of Houston; Slow Reading in a Hurried Age, 2013, etc.) notes in this "personal" approach to Bellow's novels, he stayed true to what he saw as the "novelist's highest purpose: to make people he had known and loved even more real, and more lasting." Sure, every novelist draws upon real-life people for characters, but, Mikics argues, few "have ever given us such a wealth of…funny, passionate, overwrought people." He feels Bellow rivals even Dickens in his "power to locate us through observation, to explain how appearances tell who we are." Mikics selects 10 people who were important in Bellow's life—friends, family, wives, sworn enemies—to show how each influenced his portrayals of some of his "pungent, unforgettable personalities." Morrie, his older brother, shows up as Simon in that "explosive, shaggy picaresque" that is The Adventures of Augie March. Bellow made him a "rough apostle of life" instead of the "thwarted ogre that Morrie actually was." Two of Bellow's best friends make appearances in Henderson the Rain King. The African King Dahfu is Isaac Rosenfeld, who died young, while Chanler Chapman, who was also for a while his landlord, is Eugene Henderson. Chapman "lived in the present with gusto, never plagued by the shadows of failure that clung to Rosenfeld." Mikics also shows how in Herzog, Bellow fictionally dealt with his wife Sondra's affair with his good friend Jack Ludwig. Such literary lights of the time as Delmore Schwartz and Allan Bloom make appearances as Humboldt and Ravelstein. Mikics has done a fine job uncovering how Bellow made art out of life, and he has given us a new way to approach that art.