Saul Bellow thought everyone would do him dirt.
by Saul Bellow
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Saul Bellow died in 2005 at the age of eighty-nine, and now we have, under the editorship of Benjamin Taylor (working closely with Bellow's widow), a collection of 708 letters out of the thousands that he wrote. The letters are to publishers and editors; boyhood friends; wives, lovers, children; the crowd of writers Bellow knew, both famous and obscure. Many of these letters are rich in gossip, declarations of love and ambition, praise, criticism, and commiseration; the most touching among them are to the writers for whom he had tender feeling (John Berryman, Ralph Ellison, John Cheever) and those who appealed to him for help (William Kennedy, Wright Morris). Filled as they are with the encouragement of high regard, these letters are yet among the book's briefest and even least interesting, with hardly a word in them, over all the years, of what Bellow was reading, or working on, or even fulminating against, as his famous disaffection for the world as it is grew.
What is startling, however, is the difference between the over-the-top voice that dominates the novels and the uniformly moderate one here in evidence. That novel-writing voice—always the same, always glowing with the force of dazzling, inventive complaint rushing out of the mouth of this manic Jew who had swallowed a library—who ever doubted it was Bellow's own? Of course, it was and it wasn't; yet the corrective to literary fantasy is a bit unnerving. Even during periods of his life when we know that Bellow was beside himself with shame and rage (around the time, for instance, that the openly autobiographical