Page 28 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 35

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In reviewing the same book in the New York Times, Ju lian
Moynahan calls Herzog “Bellow’s most Jewish book.” And then
he echoes Rubenstein, “There are no gentiles in it. It is fu ll of
Jewish wit, humor, pathos, intellectual and moral passion . . .
like all Jews in this generation, he feels himself to be a survivor
with the responsibility of testifying to the continued existence
of values which the Eichmanns had tried to send up in the smoke
of burning flesh.”
Bellow is an intelligent, sometimes wise, w riter who is a cere­
bral novelist rather than a natural story-teller. His major char­
acters do a great deal of interiorizing, philosophizing and talk­
ing. Although Bellow admires Joseph Conrad, and quotes him
frequently, unlike Conrad he does not try to get his readers to
see; rather, he wants them to think and to understand. One
consequence is that Bellow is often difficult to read. He does not
seduce his reader. He forces him to turn the page. Compare
Bellow’s fine story “The Old System” with, for example, almost
any Frank O’Conner short story. O’Conner captures one’s inter­
est immediately, even though he may be writing o f an old Dublin
priest and the reader is an urban Jew. For that matter, Isaac
Bashevis Singer is a hypnotic writer; Bellow a more plodding
one. One is sometimes puzzled to read of Bellow as an exquisite
stylist. He is a thinking man’s novelist. He is not your man for
flowing narrative.
His gift is in creating men. His women, regardless of his books,
all seem to be Ramona or Renata, the dark-eyed voluptuaries
who, quite mysteriously, are prepared to be totally uninhibited
with the fumbling Moses Herzog, the mad Humboldt and the
confused Charlie Citrine. His people are hermetic, closed into
themselves. Dramatic confrontations are few. Sex is ever-present
and so are the comments about Jews, their position in American
society, their alienation from the WASPs, who usually control
the America in which Bellow’s heroes find themselves.
When Bellow deals with theology and religion, he writes pages
of intellectual discourse. The Yiddish novelist, Chaim Grade,
also is concerned with religion and theology in The Agunah
and The Yeshiva, but he handles these complex themes as a