I read Herzog when it came out in paperback from Bantam or Dell, I forget which, in 1965. Those were the days when corner liquor stores had paperback books for sale, it was another age, perhaps, when even drunks had intellectual aspirations?
What struck me at age twenty was that the book was utterly boring. His obsession with writing letters to the great philosophers, his Japanese mistress and part of the book being in French. What an utter waste of time! At the same time I read Mailer’s An American Dream, call this vile, self-indulgent, imitation Hemingway.
Last year I read Ravelstein, the roman a clef of Allen Bloom’s life, and it was the same ‘novel’ as Herzog, except it was Chick as the main character, who describes his long relationship with Ravelstein, and thankfully had given up writing letters to his imaginary rivals!
In the interim I had read War and Peace,Les Misérables, The Count of Monte Cristo, and the Musketeer books, Life and Fate,The Yawning Heights, August 1914(The Red Wheel), Swann’s Way almost all of Vidal and Calvino. All of which had more life,more zest than the always self-obsessed, and usually sour Mr. Bellow, could hope to muster. Even Mr. Roth’s exercise in political paranoia, The Plot Against America, manages to garner the reader’s admiration, even affection, for it’s lead character a young and winning Philip Roth.
Reading Bellow reminds me of reading The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit by Sloan Wilson, a spiritually suffocating re-visit to 1950’s America, and the economic aspirations/delusions of the children of the Depression era, as adults living,striving in post WWII America: the era of The Organization Man. Bellow manages the dingy depressing grey with certain authority, not to mention the ennui producing self-obsessions of his authorial alter egos.