RAVELSTEIN by Saul Bellow

Book Reviews
RAVELSTEIN by Saul Bellow
Sep 1, 2000, 06:48

RAVELSTEIN by Saul Bellow; Viking, 2000

“You could do a really fine memoir. It's not just a request... I'm laying this on you as an obligation. Do it in your after-supper reminiscence manner, when you've had a few glasses of wine and you're laid back and making remarks...” And thus the task is set:

Best selling author Abe Ravelstein puts it to his life long friend Chick to write his life, not his ideas, but the living, breathing man. A simple premise and one that works fine for Bellow in this dense, meandering novel. Chick gave Abe, a popular lecturer in political philosophy, the idea to write a book of ideas for the non-scholar. Lo and behold, the book becomes a best seller and Ravelstein is able to realize the lifestyle he's always had to take out loans for: four-star hotels, designer suits, and world travel. Chick fondly recalls their younger days together, various marriages and relationships, and when we learn that Ravelstein is dying it becomes all the more poignant.

While this may sound like fairly typical novelistic territory, what we come to appreciate is that Chick is as interesting a man as Abe, and the skill with which these lives are portrayed is consummate. In the latter part of the book, there's a neat plot twist and here Abe tells his young wife “You are controlled by gravitational magnetism and the whole universe is involved in the speeding up of your end... Art is one rescue from this chaotic acceleration. Meter in poetry, tempo in music, form and color in painting... if these were just words... but I feel it everyday...”

Loosely based on Bellow's own relationship with The Closing of the American Mind author Allan Bloom, Ravelstein caused a stir among literary critics who demanded to know if Bloom's death was caused by AIDS. Whatever, Ravelstein is affecting and sharp, and intrigues as prologue to a biography of Bloom.

-Wade Iverson

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