This post contains blasphemy and vulgar language.
. . . . .
The Actual (1997) by Saul Bellow. Interconnected Chicagoans interconnect. Harry, an emotionally challenged would-be lover of long-time friend Amy, has a meeting with billionaire Sigmund. Long, drawn-out rendezvouses, recollections and ruminations precede and follow. Like a Woody Allen movie, except in Chicago, and minus (most of) the fun and action.
Beside the bath was a toilet with a cushioned cover on the lid, and Amy pulled down her underclothes and had seated herself, when Madge came in. She entered from the master bedroom. The toilet was in a recess between the whirlpool bath and a shower stall. Amy had failed to notice how long the tiled room actually was. Beyond, there were washbasins and mirror walls, and there was a dressing room as well.
“I don’t think I was especially well brought up,” said Amy, “but I was taught that this is one place where privacy is respected.”
“Well, I gave you time enough to examine the burned spot. The tea was lukewarm, not boiling. The Mexicans do good coffee, but they don’t understand how to brew tea. I realized when I poured the old lady her cup that it was tepid. I wanted a private talk, to have you to myself for awhile. That was the whole idea. Wasn’t it sweet of Bodo to bring the aloe vera? It’s one of his special remedies. But I can see for myself that the red scald isn’t too bad. You got wet, I’m sorry to say, and I’ll pay the cleaner’s bill too, but tea won’t stain—we used to rub spots out with tea when I was young.”
“Well, let me pull my clothes into place.”
“Yes, adjust a little, honey, and don’t mind me.”
“You did behave like a wild bitch,” said Amy. “Do you always do every goddamn thing that rushes into your head?”
“Well, at least I didn’t set you up for a hit.”
. . . . .
Dangling Man (1944) by Saul Bellow. The diary of Joseph, an unemployed Chicagoan with violent tendencies waiting for his draft papers to be authorized. His aimlessness and dissatisfaction in life is caused by the red-tape delay of his absorption into the army. Pro-military.
“You’re crazy, Uncle,” she said.
“All right, that’s said and over, there won’t be any more of it,” I said, and I believed that I was succeeding in checking myself. “You can listen to the conga, or whatever it is, when I leave. Now, will you go or sit down and let me play this to the end?”
“Why should I? You can listen to this. Beggars can’t be choosers!” She uttered this with such triumph that I could see she had prepared it long in advance.
“You’re a little animal,” I said. “As rotten and spoiled as they come. What you need is a whipping.”
“Oh!” she gasped. “You dirty . . . dirty no-account. You crook!” I caught her wrist and wrenched her toward me.
“Damn you, Joseph, let go! Let me go!” The album went crashing. With the fingers of her free hand she tried to reach my face. Seizing her by the hair fiercely, I snapped her head back; her outcry never left her throat; her nails missed me narrowly. Her eyes shut tightly, in horror.
“Here’s something from a beggar you won’t forget in a hurry,” I muttered. I dragged her to the piano bench, still gripping her hair.
“Don’t!” she screamed, recovering her voice. “Joseph! You bastard!”
I pulled her over my knee, trapping both her legs in mine. I could hear the others running upstairs as the first blows descended and I hurried my task, determined that she should be punished in spite of everything, in spite of the consequences; no, more severely because of the consequences. “Don’t you struggle,” I cried, pressing down her neck. “Or curse me. It won’t help you.”
Amos pounded up the last flight of stairs and burst in. Behind, breathless, came Dolly and Iva.
“Joseph,” Amos panted, “let her go. Let the girl go!”
I did not release her at once. She no longer fought against me but, with her long hair reaching nearly to the floor and her round, nubile thighs bare, lay in my lap.
Bellow joined the United States Merchant Marine during WWII.
. . . . .
Seize the Day (1956) by Saul Bellow. New Yorker Wilhelm is a failed actor, unemployed, poor, and estranged from his wife, children, and father. During the course of a single day, a series of unfortunate events leads to a psychological crisis. *SPOILER* He gives his last $700 dollars to a con man, and in an effort to chase him down, gets swept into a funeral, where he has a dramatic public breakdown. *END SPOILER* This story had a satisfying finish, in my opinion. Well-crafted.
“You have some purpose of your own,” said the doctor, “in acting so unreasonable. What do you want from me? What do you expect?”
“What do I expect?” said Wilhelm. He felt as though he were unable to recover something. Like a ball in the surf, washed beyond reach, his self-control was going out. “I expect help!” The words escaped him in a loud, wild, frantic cry and startled the old man, and two or three breakfasters within hearing glanced their way. Wilhelm’s hair, the color of whitened honey, rose dense and tall with the expansion of his face, and he said, “When I suffer—you aren’t even sorry. That’s because you have no affection for me, and you don’t want any part of me.”
“Why must I like the way you behave? No, I don’t like it,” said Dr. Adler.
“All right. You want me to change myself. But suppose I could do it—what would I become? What could I? Let’s suppose that all my life I have had the wrong ideas about myself and wasn’t what I thought I was. And wasn’t even careful to take a few precautions, as most people do—like a woodchuck has a few extra exits in his tunnel. But what shall I do now? More than half my life is over. More than half. And now you tell me I’m not even normal.”
The old man had lost his calm. “You cry about being helped,” he said. “When you thought you had to go into the service I sent a check to Margaret every month. As a family man you could have had an exemption. But no! The war couldn’t be fought without you and you had to get yourself drafted and be an office-boy in the Pacific theater. Any clerk could have done what you did. You could find nothing better than to become a GI.”
Wilhelm was going to reply, and half raised his bearish figure from the chair, his fingers spread and whitened by their grip on the table, but the old man would not let him begin. He said, “I see other elderly people here with children who aren’t much good, and they keep backing them and holding them up at a great sacrifice. But I’m not going to make that mistake. It doesn’t enter your mind that when I die—a year, two years from now—you’ll still be here. I do think of it.”
“Bellow lived in New York City for a number of years, but he returned to Chicago in 1962 as a professor at the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago… There were also other reasons for Bellow’s return to Chicago… Bellow found Chicago to be vulgar but vital, and more representative of America than New York. He was able to stay in contact with old high school friends and a broad cross-section of society. In a 1982 profile, Bellow’s neighborhood was described as a high-crime area in the city’s center, and Bellow maintained he had to live in such a place as a writer and ‘stick to his guns.’ ” -Wiki