Saul Bellow, one of
His books touched a raw nerve in the high conformity, post-War period. Punctuated with connections of everyday life, his protagonists struggled to answer questions about meaning and purpose in modern society, a society which for him had lost all posssibilities for enchantment and redemption. His books have several references to sociological concepts. The New York Times' obituary noted that Bellow was a sociology and anthropology major. Apparently, whilst at Chicago, one of Bellow's close friends was the great social theorist Edward Shils. What I also liked about Bellow was his saratorial style. His gap-toothed smile and dandy dressing was iconic.
Unlike many writers, Bellow avoided the "Nobel curse". He never lost his edge or disdain for mediocre minds. Like Philip Roth, Bellow's novels never mellowed. Even in Ravelstein could still hear the primal scream of his striving, 2nd generation immigrant protagonists asking: where do I fit in in this over-the-top, materialist culture? Will someone pay attention to me?
Although not as critically well-received as his other books, I particularly enjoyed Ravelstein based on his friend Allen Bloom. I think in many ways Bellow was writing his own eulogy with this book when he wrote:
Ravelstein was an impressive academic figure. He molds young minds -- first getting them to forget "the opinions of their parents and bourgeois society, then guiding, teaching, leading them. The chosen ones -- the ones who survive his tests, for whom he is a mentor, those he believes can achieve great things -- do go on to achieve, becoming leaders and scholars in the world. And they never forget their great teacher: he constantly stays in touch with them, exchanging gossip and ideas, continuing to lead and push them as is necessary.
To paraphrase Bellow's remarks about Ravelstein, One does not easily give up a man like Bellow to death.