A Theft

Saul Bellow, Author Penguin Books $7.95 (128p) ISBN 978-0-14-011969-5
The Nobel laureate's bold experiment here with a trade paperback original is a sonorous statement on the feasibility of the format as a vehicle for serious literature and may, indeed, encourage other notables to follow in his footsteps. Bellow's clever but tender novella is also his first book to feature a woman as its principal character. But the formidable Clara Velde is less an anomaly than a vintage Bellow protagonist in skirts. A fortyish executive of an international publishing group, Clara is ``the czarina of fashion writing''; the breadwinner of her family, she is a devoted mother of three daughters, whose father is Clara's fourth husband, a colorless, underemployed couch potato. But like the uncle and nephew in More Die of Heartbreak , whose dignified existences are undermined by restless libidos, Clara's powerful facade is vulnerable to the demands of her heart. Two youthful love affairs gone sour had precipitated suicide attempts, and now she is unnerved by the theft of her emerald ring--an engagement ring from a brilliant man she never married but still adores--by the shifty boyfriend of her au pair Gina Wegman, a singularly incisive, young, upper-class Austrian who has ventured into the ``Gogmagogsville'' of New York City for excitement. Although Clara employs a private eye, this taut yet characteristically subtle tale is no whodunit; what is redeemed here is not chiefly tangible but Clara's sense of self. If the novella's ending is less than full-scale and his characters engage in the usual brand of ``mental'' conversations, Bellow is also the ever-perspicacious observer of the human condition and modern-day turmoil, who penetrates the soul of a character with a few nimble sentences. He writes, for example, of Clara's eldest, the needy, stout Lucy: ``The two little skinny girls laughed at their sister. They scooped up their snickers in their hands while Lucy held herself like a Roman soldier. Her face was heated with boredom and grievances.'' 150,000 first printing; QPBC dual main selection; author tour. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 02/27/1989
Release date: 03/01/1989
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 978-0-318-41472-0
Paperback - 978-0-14-779000-2
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