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Wednesday, August 05, 2015

The Victim (1947) by Saul Bellow

Writer Saul Bellow was actually born in Quebec before moving with his parents to Chicago when he was a boy.  He won the Nobel Prize for Literature and the Pultizer Prize during his lifetime.

Book Review
The Victim (1947)
by Saul Bellow

  I practically breathed a sigh of relief when I picked up this book at the amazing used book shop, The Last Bookstore, in downtown Los Angeles.  Saul Bellow is actually an author who might actually come up in casual conversation, an author someone I might interact with will have actually heard of and even read. As much as I enjoy the solitary aspects of systematically reading 1001 novels in more or less chronological order, I'm anxious to catch up to the "present day."  In my mind, this is the period starting after World War II.  So The Victim may be the first book in the 1001 Books series to be close to contemporary American literature.  It' exciting time.  It's also telling that the period between classical Greece and Rome and the end of World War II accounts for less than half of the 1001 Books list.  Less than 40% of the titles, actually.  That means that every decade between the 1950s and today has an average of something like 75-80 books per decade.   But at least they are books that other people still read.

   Like the protagonists of many (all?) of his books, Asa Leventhal is a youngish-oldish Jewish guy from the East Coast.  He works at a trade magazine after surviving a hard scrabble, working class child hood.  His wife has to leave for an extended period, leaving him alone in the city.  Leventhal soon comes into contact with Kirby Allbee, a dissolute wasp who blames Leventhal for his decline and specifically for the loss of his job in publishing.  Allbee becomes a spectre, haunting Leventhal with recriminations and looking for his assistance.   Leventhal has to balance this with the illness of his brothers son- the brother being absent in Galveston, presumably working in oil.   Only 260 odd pages, The Victim is a quick read, and while I surmise that it is not one of the top three type Bellow titles, it is widely available in bookstores and makes for an easy read.

  One thought that occurred to me while reading The Victim is that it would pair well for fans of the now departed TV Show Mad Men- they aren't exactly alike, but there is some similarity with the interpersonal issues and the publishing house setting.

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