Humboldt’s Gift (Bellow)

The thing is, I like Saul Bellow. I od’d on him when I first encountered his work as a U of C student 25 or so years ago. I don’t want to re-read Henderson, the Rain King because I’ve turned one moment of that book into a profound experience in my life and I’m little worried that I don’t quite have the details right.

I am no slave to plot. I don’t need things to be linear. But as much as there’s a lot of great writing here, there’s no, well, story, certainly not enough of one to sustain 472 pages. A few things happen. Some of these things are less credible than others. Some things have happened in the past. But the book is mostly an excuse for Bellow to do some philosophical posturing by putting words in the mouth of Humboldt and Charlie (as well as a few others). These are not human beings; they are mouthpieces, male mouthpieces at that as Charlie, despite his age and appearance, spends a great deal of time with Renata, who comes off as quite the catch.

There are some human qualities to Charlie’s interactions with Humboldt’s wife as well as with his own brother. As a one-time Chicagoan, I enjoyed the look at the city, But again, there was not enough here to make this much more than one I had to push myself through for the sake of an upcoming book club meeting.


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