May 19, 2009



I think one reason Bellow found the epistolary form so freeing was simply that he was not a very good storyteller, and his plotting skills were almost non-existent, a failing noted by many critics. Yet Bellow insisted on constructing creaking, plodding plot structure on which to hang his philosophical and psychological musings. So it's not surprising a form where plot is at best secondary suited him (and his readers perhaps even more) so well.

Perhaps the form and style he used in Herzog should have been he adopted more widely in his work. It would certainly have improved works like the interminable Henderson the Rain King.


Niall -

Bellow was an excellent storyteller when he chose to be. Consider 'The Adventures of Augie March,' his freewheeling masterwork, rich in incident and spanning many years and many lands (America, Canada, Mexico). Or 'The Victim.' Or even 'Seize the Day.' And, yes, with the exception of its final chapters (those endless dialogues with King Dahfu!), 'Henderson the Rain King.' Far from being interminable, I find it exhilarating.

Bellow was a master. If he chose not to plot heavily, it's not because he was "a poor storyteller" but because he had something else in mind. He acknowledged, for example, that 'Mr. Sammler's Planet' isn't even a novel but "something wrung from me" by the atmosphere of the 1960s. A polemic. A diatribe. Something.

As for plotting -- because he did not doesn't mean he could not.

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