Remembering Saul Bellow

Is it true that “many people under the age of 50” have barely heard of him? Lee Siegel, a devout admirer, certainly hopes a new biography will open doors to a new audience. His essay is over-long and maddeningly self-indulgent at times, but it has its moments. This one, for instance. You’d have thought Bellow and one of his most famous British admirers would have a lot in common. Seems not:

Several months after his death in April 2005, at the age of 89, I attended his memorial service, which was held at the 92nd Street Y. [Bellow’s agent Andrew] Wylie had organized it himself. He clearly wanted to use the occasion to rehabilitate Bellow and bring him back to the centre of the American literary pantheon — not to mention selling off that backlist. But there was a coldness and emptiness to the occasion. None of Bellow’s sons spoke. Bellow’s oldest friends, some of whom were still alive, did not appear onstage. No Stanley Crouch, whose friendship Bellow had cherished. Some of the prominent authors Wylie had invited to speak had either never met Bellow or barely knew him.

That afternoon, I found myself sitting next to a predictably drunk Christopher Hitchens, who whispered to me, “I should be up there,” despite the fact that when Martin Amis had introduced him to Bellow, Hitchens immediately drew Bellow into a nasty debate about Israel. Bellow loathed him. By the logic of the memorial’s sad axial lines, though, I guess Hitchens was right. He should have been up there.

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