Why Saul Bellow works for me

is that in the two novels of his I’ve read, the hero somewhat resembles me. And we all like to identify with a protagonist, right? Like me, Bellow’s hero is a thoughtful middle aged American man living in or around Chicago.

But I also like his books because his hero is distinctly unlike me, and so intriguing. Bellow’s heroes are highly intelligent, highly sexed, highly medicated, and highly narcissistic.

If you factor this appeal in with bursts of sociology, anthropology, and philosophy, it is not hard to understand why he won both the Pulitzer and Nobel prizes for literature.

According to some criticism I’ve read, Bellow was also highly auto-biographical, and so the books work for me on the biographical, psychological level, too. A perceptive reviewer wrote on Amazon:

[Herzog is] highly autobiographical with a thin veneer of “fiction” attached to it, as the whole premise of the book echoes the events of Bellow’s life at the time it was written, and not suprisingly, the point of view often switches from first to third person almost subconsciously. This work strikes me as a personal catharsis for the author, and a chance for him to indulge the audiences’ voyeuristic side. It is clever, masterfully written, and is certainly a heart rending ride through not only Herzog’s but also Bellow’s life. It is a piece which has the ability to speak volumes to some, yet is without meaning to others.

I’m thinking that Bellow is not for the ladies, and I hope that doesn’t sound sexist. It’s just that his books are populated with rather two-dimensional females, and his protagonists are such traditional males caught up in narcissistic self-regard, self-pity, and fornicating. Though sensitive men, none of his heroes dwell on their feelings. They act out and speak them out, but don’t wallow in them. In my experience, women have a tendancy to enjoy emotions more than his books allow.

And I’m sorry, you who are not well-read in the Great Books (one used to say “educated”), Bellow is probably not for you, either. There are all sorts of allusions to writing by people like Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Plato. If I couldn’t sort of follow his thoughts by knowing his references (having the requisite cultural knowledge), I would certainly be put off and bored.

But heads up, Hollywood film-producers. Here’s a million dollar idea for you: option Humboldt’s Gift or Herzog and make movies of them.

This stuff is cinematic like Cormac McCarthy’s. Bellow‘s dialog is ready made for the screen. I cannot believe there has been no interest from Hollywood, or that Woody Allen for instance, didn’t option it already. One can easily imagine a John Cusack, Vince Vaughan, Ben Stiller, Jim Carrey, or a Will Ferrel in his male characters’ roles.

Also, in this climate of global economic collapse, with public chastisement and set-back, the loser-mensch anti-hero of Bellow might be just right for the movies.

Interested in doing a screenplay collaboratively? Read the books. We’ll talk.

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