Was Saul Bellow a Man or a Jerk?

Was Saul Bellow a Man or a Jerk?
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This is a superb biography. Yet it begins in the most inauspicious place. It is 1964, and Saul Bellow has just become absurdly rich and famous. His struggle, doubt, grit, immigrant story, artistic dreams — all were told in Volume 1 of Zachary Leader's biography, “To Fame and Fortune.” Here in Volume 2, “Love and Strife,” the novel “Herzog” is published on the very first page and reaches “No. 1 on the best-seller list, supplanting John le Carré's ‘The Spy Who Came In From the Cold.'” Never again would Bellow, about to turn 50 years old, lack for wealth, power, awards or flunkies to stand by him, ready to take his coat and do his bidding. The temptation for someone in his position was to become an insufferable, spoiled monster.

And Bellow quickly gave in to temptation. “Bellow's bad temper in the late '60s was by no means directed exclusively at would-be biographers, radical students and aggrieved wives,” Leader begins a sentence, apologetically, on just Page 65. Bellow had so many targets to attack, whether insulting them face to face or in blistering letters or put-downs circulated through intermediaries. One of his favorite one-liners ran: “Let's you and him fight.” The most salient recipients of Bellow's bad temper in this biography were his three sons, each from a different mother — the oldest 21 when this volume starts, the youngest just 1 year old and about to be abandoned after yet another divorce.

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