Tuesday, December 28, 2010

#25 - "Herzog" by Saul Bellow

Herzog (Penguin Classics)So I finally finished my 25th book and I'm now a quarter of the way through the list.  Herzog took me a little longer to read then planned, but I'll blame that on the Christmas season, which has not only occupied my reading time, but obviously also my blogging time, as I haven't written anything since the 4th of December.  However, I was able to get some reading done over the Christmas weekend, relaxing in B.C.  As I already mentioned, I finished Herzog, but I was also able to read Play it as it Lays by Joan Didion on Christmas Day (that's right, old molasses read an entire book in a single day...).  So actually, I've already read 26 books, and am fifty pages into the 27th.  But I digress, back to number twenty-five.

Moses E. Herzog is forty-seven and a father of two, who is newly divorced (again), unemployed, more or less homeless, and unsure of where life is taking him.  Or rather where he's going to take his life.  He spends his time writing letters, usually to people he doesn't know, to complain about things they may have said or written, but really he's writing the to merely pass the time and vent his frustrations.  But despite so many things in his life spiraling downward, he remains oddly upbeat through everything he faces.

When I first picked this book up from the library, I had a feeling, for unknown reasons, I would enjoy it.  There wasn't anything exciting on the cover to make me think one way or another.  Nor, did I know anything about the story or the author.  But none the less, it was an instinct I had.  Now that I've read it, I'm not sure what I think.  At times I found it funny, other times suspenseful.  Some parts were interesting, others were, a little on the dull side.  There were times I simply became disinterested in the plot.  Because of the ups and downs of the story, it ended up being the characters that held my interest in the book, and ultimately, were what I enjoyed the most.  Herzog himself is a likeable man, who it would be difficult for somebody not to like (his two ex-wives notwithstanding.)  His most recent wife, Madelaine, who serves as the book's antagonist, is an annoying, yet intriguing character brought to life, like all the others, with Bellow's wonderful descriptions and excellent dialogue.  I found myself simply enjoying reading the exchanges between the characters more than the pesky plot.

I'm curious as to what the reaction would be to a book like Herzog, if it were released today.  In 1964, many of Herzog's situations were probably a little edgier than they are today.  Having two ex-wives, children from different women, career changes, or sleeping with a woman out of wedlock, are no longer even remotely taboo.  In fact, I'd argue they're more the norm than the exception.  With so many of Herzog's 'predicaments' being so common place, I wonder if this book would have even close to the same impact today that it had so many years ago.  Of course having said that, good writing is good writing, regardless of the era.  Good books stand the test of time because they are well written and because ultimately, they have good stories, even if some of the background are a little old fashioned.

You can read the original TIME magazine review from September 24, 1964 right here.

My next book will be--sorry, my next book was Play It As It Lays, by Joan Didion.  I'll post my review tomorrow.

Notes:  I returned yet another book I had borrowed from the library, but never read, Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon.  I first took it out almost three months ago and have been subconsciously avoiding it ever since.  Last week, after having already renewed it four times, I was forced to return it.  I believe that's the library's way of making sure I haven't lost or destroyed it.

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