Saul Bellows Heart: A Sons Memoir

Saul Bellows Heart: A Sons Memoir

by Greg Bellow
     
 

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Saul Bellow was easily angered, prone to argument, and palpably vulnerable to criticism, but according to his son, his young father was also emotionally accessible, often soft, and possessed of the ability to laugh at the worlds folly and at himself. Part of Greg Bellows bond with his father was grounded in that softness, in humor, and in the set of egalitarian social

Overview

Saul Bellow was easily angered, prone to argument, and palpably vulnerable to criticism, but according to his son, his young father was also emotionally accessible, often soft, and possessed of the ability to laugh at the worlds folly and at himself. Part of Greg Bellows bond with his father was grounded in that softness, in humor, and in the set of egalitarian social values he followed. Saul Bellows accessibility and lightheartedness waned as he aged, and his social views hardened, although he was, fundamentally, no less vulnerable. His earlier tolerance for opposing viewpoints all but disappeared, and his ability to laugh at himself faded. These changes eroded much of the common ground between Bellow and his son and taxed their relationship so sorely that Greg often worried whether it would survive. But theirs were differences of mind, not of heart.

This memoir gives equal weight to the young Saul Bellow--the rebellious, irreverent, and ambitious young writer--who raised Greg, and the older Saul Bellow, famous and fiercely private. It paints a very human portrait of a man who hid behind parabolic stories, jokes, metaphors, and partial truths, never letting the public see his true self.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
This bittersweet memoir by Greg Bellow, a psychotherapist by training and the firstborn son of Nobel Prize-winner Saul Bellow, is replete with intimate anecdotes and insightful glimpses into the autobiographical aspects of the elder Bellow's fiction (e.g., The Adventures of Augie March; Herzog). The son attempts to come to grips with his father's legacy, and their often strained relationship. "Old Saul's" complexity and numerous flaws—he could be selfish, thin-skinned, and taciturn—are considered in full here by the son. He writes of Saul's later years and of the time after his death, organizing and recording those memories before they fade further, examining the boundaries so tenaciously held between the artist's public and private lives, the literary hero and the increasingly difficult, distanced father. VERDICT Bellow's memoir, "as full and as honest a written portrait as I can render," judiciously makes its case. Memoir readers will appreciate the accessible prose and the narrative's straightforward, chronological organization. Also recommended for readers interested in the work of Saul Bellow.—Patrick A. Smith, Bainbridge Coll., GA
The Washington Post - Jonathan Yardley
…the testimony of a son who loved his father but was in effect deserted by him over much of their shared lifetimes, who treasured his memories of their father-son relationship when both were young but in time came to resent…those "dozens of self-appointed sons and daughters" who attached themselves to the world-famous, post-Nobel Prize Bellow…[Gregory] has tried to be both honest about and fair to his father in Saul Bellow's Heart and has largely succeeded, but he also acknowledges that there are things in this book that his father would not like, chief among them perhaps that he subjects Saul Bellow to precisely the kind of close scrutiny to which Saul subjected the real men and women who became fictional characters in his work.
Publishers Weekly
This sometimes emotionally distant, often clinically written, and unabashedly straightforward memoir from the eldest son of Saul Bellow reveals the "inner life" of a storming personality as Bellow comes to terms with the contradicting versions of the father he knew. Reading through many obituaries following his father's death, the young Bellow sees a man he doesn't quite recognize and sets out, through a retelling of family history and re-reading his father's letters, novels, plays, and stories, to recover the ""young Saul," the rebellious, irreverent, and ambitious man who raised ," who was also "emotionally accessible, often soft, and possessed the ability to laugh at the world and at himself." Bellow recounts the closeness he felt to his father during his childhood—"y father a kid who never grew up… and who understood my feelings"—and the ways life fell apart at age eight when his father and mother separated, then divorced. As Saul Bellow grows older, his ideas and attitudes harden, creating a near-impenetrable discord between father and son; looking back, however, the young Bellow realizes that this "cold war between my father and me" was simply a "struggle between two men… who loved one another and sought to keep their relationship alive." Writing this memoir, the young Bellow admits, has "brought "closer to the ‘old Saul'… once found alien and intimidating," and created a "delightful new connection" with his father. (Apr.)
Kirkus Reviews
There is love within this memoir by the son of the Nobel Prize–winning novelist, but there is even greater distance. A Freudian psychotherapist and academic, the author generally resists the temptation to analyze his famous father in the manner of a psychobiography. But neither does he add much revelation to what readers already knew or suspected, mainly that the writer who was arguably the greatest novelist of his generation could be difficult and selfish as a family man. He also used his failed marriages as grist for the mill of many of his greatest novels, with the son (who read those novels in succession before writing this memoir) showing where he thinks the voice and experience of the fictional narrators were very much the novelist's. As the only child of Bellow's first marriage, the author admits that "Saul's departure split my life in two," and that the divide deepened as the battles intensified between his parents (largely over money during the course and aftermath of the divorce). As someone who remained true to the leftist politics that his father famously repudiated (and from which his mother never wavered), he makes a distinction between the "young Saul" with whom he identified and the increasingly conservative, repressive, death-obsessed man his father became. The culture wars from the 1960s onward found father and son on opposite sides, while personal affronts (an ailing Saul's failure to attend his granddaughter's wedding, the antipathy between his final wife and widow and his sons) deepened the gulf. The author writes from what he says is a need "for a portrait that reveals Saul's complex nature, one written by a loving son who also knew his shortcomings." Ultimately, the memoir reveals more about how it felt to be the son of such a father than it does about the novelist.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781608199969
Publisher:
Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
04/23/2013
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
488,523
File size:
5 MB

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Meet the Author

Gregory Bellow, PhD, was a psychoanalytically oriented psychotherapist for forty years and remains a member of the Core Faculty of The Sanville Institute. He lives in Redwood City, California.
Gregory Bellow, PhD, was a psychoanalytically oriented psychotherapist for forty years and remains a member of the Core Faculty of The Sanville Institute. He lives in Redwood City, California.

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