Monday, November 29, 2010

Autumnal Bellow

Town Lake, Austin.

I finished reading Saul Bellow's letters. Tremendous, of course. A couple of striking themes emerge. One is of how many enemies Bellow created over the course of his life - not least of which were several ex-wives, intellectuals, critics and fellow writers. There is something of the philosopher or sage in Bellow's natural tone, yet for all of his wisdom, he managed to make quite a hash of his personal life. When it comes to personal relations, it's hard to trust in the wisdom of a man who married five times and was divorced on four occasions - and was never the instigator of divorce proceedings.

The book is very moving about the aging process. Bellow was eighty-eight when he died, and naturally enough, the book traces his depleting energies. As autumn makes its brief appearance in Austin, I felt sympathy as the great man of letters chronicled his diminishing powers. Although not yet half the age Bellow was when he died, perhaps for the first time recently I've felt touched by the question of mortality. A great friend of mine stayed with me this past week, a friend who lost his wife to cancer at the age of forty-six a little over a month ago.  Autumn, after all, is the season of reflection...

'But I'd better not try thinking today. My mind isn't very good. It's like the weather coming over the Lake: foggy. The sparrows are sitting in my tree, waiting for spring to start again. I knew their ancestors.'
Saul Bellow, 1966.


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