Bookmarks | Saul Bellow, In His Son's Eyes

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Saul Bellow is arguably the greatest American novelist since World War II. His best works—The Adventures of Augie March, Herzog, and Humboldt’s Gift—offer varied and lasting delights: they’re smart and funny, philosophical and lyrical, committed to the body and to the mind, one part Joyce to two parts Dostoevsky. It’s safe to say that if American literature is taught a hundred years from now, Bellow will be on the syllabus.

Bellow’s literary greatness is indisputable. So, however, were his personal failings. He was married five times, and it’s easy to see why. He cheated and chased women, leaving numerous ex-wives and children in his wake. Sensitive and vindictive, Bellow didn’t suffer fools gladly and, as he got older, he seemed to think that just about everyone—political liberals, multiculturalists, “Ivy League catamites,” former friend Alfred Kazin—was a fool. For such a generous writer, Bellow could be an extraordinarily selfish man.

Saul Bellow’s Heart: A Son’s Memoir (Bloomsbury) is an attempt by Bellow’s firstborn son, Greg, to come to terms with his late father’s flaws. The memoir opens in 2005. Saul has just died, and Greg is raging against the “flood of obituaries” that has immediately followed. Martin Amis, Leon Wieseltier, Philip Roth—all have publicly claimed Saul as an intellectual and literary father, and Greg is upset: “What is it with...

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About the Author

Anthony Domestico is an assistant professor of literature at Purchase College, SUNY. "Bookmarks" is his regular book columnn.