Herzog Seeks, Misses, Key to Life

Dust jacket of Herzog shows shadowy black figure on blue backgroundSaul Bellow’s Herzog is the sort of novel about which critics utter phrases like “certain to be talked about.”

I’ll say the novel contains some clever sentences. (I particularly liked, “He was a piece of human capital badly invested.”) But  it takes more than a few good sentences to make a novel.

Having a plot is always useful.

Bellow seems to have missed the boat there.

The story, such as it is, concerns Moses E. Herzog, 47, a man with two ex-wives, two children, and a trail of fondly remembered sex partners.

Herzog may not be crazy, but he is definitely a guy with issues.

Most of the book is Herzog’s letters to friends, family, colleagues, strangers, each attempting to set the record straight. He writes others were wrong, he was right.

Herzog reminds me of Edward Casaubon in George Eliot’s  nineteenth century novel Middlemarch. Casaubon wants to find the key to all mythologies; Herzog wants to find the key to all of life. If Casaubon had written a personal memoir, it would have sounded a lot like Herzog’s scribbling, although to give Herzog his due, he does have a sense of irony which Casaubon entirely lacks.

Herzog finally writes himself into exhaustion and winds up back in the same neglected house where the story began.

by Saul Bellow
New York: Viking Press
1964 bestseller #3
341 pages
My grade C

 © 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Linda G. Aragoni

I make big ideas simple for learners. In eight sentences, 34 words, I taught teens and adults to write competently. Now I'm writing guides to turn willing volunteers into great nursing home visitors.

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