Bellow’s People: How Saul Bellow Made Life into Art

David Mikics. Norton, $26.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-393-24687-2

In this novel approach to author Saul Bellow’s work, Mikics (Slow Reading in a Hurried Age) centers his study of influence and literary criticism around some of the key figures in the Nobel laureate’s life. The story begins with Morrie Bellow, Saul’s volatile older brother and father figure. Morrie effectively abandons Saul, but Saul cannot resist trying to make sense of his brother through fiction. Mikics illuminates Bellow’s sometimes misunderstood relationship with Ralph Ellison and uses textual examples to show how each writer encouraged and influenced the other. Likewise, Bellow’s transformation of poet Delmore Schwartz into the character Von Humboldt Fleisher of Humboldt’s Gift relies on Schwartz’s writing as much as his forceful personality. Bellow used aspects of his close friend Edward Shils in his works, most prominently in Mr. Sammler’s Planet, but perhaps the clearest case of a character stepping from reality into fiction is Allen Bloom becoming the eponymous protagonist of Ravelstein. In this final novel, Bellow “ennobled Bloom,” and Mikics shows how Bellow turned Bloom’s combination of high-culture ideas and rumpled, professorial attitudes into one of the most memorable literary characters of the past 50 years. Mikics’s larger thesis is that Bellow’s writing exalts personality, and the sheer variety and depth of the real personalities he studies in this book deftly support that framework. [em]Agent: Chris Calhoun, Chris Calhoun Agency. (May) [/em]