An awful shock to hear of Saul Bellow's death, even when his state of health
has been reported on over the past five years or so. What Bellow wrote in an
afterword stands, I think, for his work: "It would be mad to edit a novel
like Little Dorrit. That sea of words is a sea, a force of nature. We want
it that way, ample, capable of breeding life. When its amplitude tires us we
readily forgive it. We wouldn't want it any other way." Bellow's prose is
everywhere abundant, in portraiture, music, comedy, philosophical thought,
and the intelligence of his books seems to me of a very robust kind.
That book was his collected stories, one of which, Something To Remember Me
By, has been my favourite Bellow piece, or certainly the one I've read many
times, a childhood day narrated by an old man as a legacy for his son. I
read it again today. The story beautifully balances the physical detail of
Chicago in 1933, with a straight emotional line concerning the imminent
death of the child's mother, with a chain of almost slapstick events which
lead to ever worse situations, with the divination of this day by memory as
the old writer. There is a description of a florist: "Amid the flowers, he
had no colour - something like the price he paid for being human."
The story ends with two sentences that seem appropriate when a writer dies,
"Well, they're all gone now, and I have made my preparations. I haven't left
a large estate, and this is why I have written this memoir, a sort of
addition to your legacy."