Seize the Day (1956)
by Saul Bellow
In the foreward to the edition I read, critic Cynthia Ozick notes that Seize the Day, a slight novella spanning a single day in the life of failed actor (and human being) Tommy Adler nee Wilhelm, is dwarfed by coming after The Adventures of Augie March, also written by Bellow and published the year before. Augie March was Bellow's big hit with the reading public, and its success set him up for a lifetime of critical and popular attention. Bellow dominates American literary fiction in the 1950s and to a certain extent his vision of the 1950s masculinity is one the public has come to accept as "true."
Tommy Adler, the protagonist in Seize the Day, is a pure Bellow male loser- a would-be Alpha heading down towards the bottom of Beta. Although Seize the Day takes place in a single day, much of the text is devoted to various musings by Adler about his past mistakes and his present predicaments. Even though I don't consider myself either a typical 50s style American male or an abject failure, I am old enough and wise enough to relate to Adler/Wilhelm and his problems with a wife who won't divorce him (or fuck him) and a father who sees him as a loss to be cut off the balance sheet. That isn't my reality, but it very well could be.
Once again, I'm confronted with the fact that I very much relate to the most out-of-fashion, "white-male" centered titles in the 1001 Books project. When I brought Bellow up to a gathering of high school classmates- all university educated white men on the cusp of their 40s, I found myself advocating for Bellow, "No, I know he has a dowdy reputation, but if you are a white guy dealing with mid life issues like family, jobs and kids, you really should check him out."