This collection of 13 of Bellow's (long) short stories, many of them classics, demonstrates the Nobel Prize winner's formidable literary presence. His characters have prospered in the American century, and now, in their old age, are beginning to doubt its endurance. Bellow likes to take a man at "the top of his field" and, from that perspective, survey the discontents of civilization. Some—like Victor Wulpy in "What Kind of Day Did You Have?"—refuse to retire and take mistresses in their mid-70s. Others, like Willis Mosby, the foreign relations guru writing his mandarin's memoirs in Oaxaca, consider retirement another chance to score points. Bellow's women still rise to the top as they did in the 1950s—by association with men. In "A Theft," Clara Velde, who has successfully formed her own journalism agency, still defines herself in terms of her husbands. Generally, these interior dramas are saturated with the realistic and metaphorical atmosphere of Chicago. Yet the crowning jewel here is "The Bellarosa Connection," in which the unnamed narrator is a retired Philadelphia memory expert who reflects on his friendship with a man still obsessed with his escape from WWII Europe and the legendary showbiz promoter who helped him. Bellow's stories spread rather than march in straight lines, like memory itself, giving a kinesthetic sense of a stained, bamboozled and fundamentally comic culture. A preface by the writer's wife, Janis, an introduction by essayist James Woods and an afterword by Bellow himself, in which he makes a prescient case for short fiction in this time of "noisy frantic monstrous agglomeration," add to the collection's appeal. (Nov. 1)
Forecast:Sure to be widely reviewed, this collection will capitalize on the success of Bellow's recent novella, Ravelstein.