What I’m Reading Now

herzog

I considered titling this post “What I’m Recovering From Now” but will spare readers the horrific details of the stomach bug that invaded Friday, left me flat until Sunday mid-day, and still has me feeling light-headed.

So here’s the first installment from the Bowie reading list.

Saul Bellow’s novel Herzog tells the story of Moses Herzog, who has failed at pretty much everything – work, marriage, home repair. He writes letters in his head to console himself. He is far better off than Lutie Johnson, the heroine of my mother’s novel The Street, but the two share a great deal. As oppressed minorities, they struggle against allowing their circumstances to limit them. She strives for good – he seems to fight it. Both suffer the consequences. They try to live like their “superiors,” though Herzog is far more guilty about his choices than Lutie. As a result, Herzog is replete with outrageous humor as well as a depressing sense of the inevitable.

Both he and she live on the cusp of major change – Lutie during World War II and Herzog in the mid-1960s. They could not have existed without the upheavals occurring in the outside world. And in some ways they have shaped the America that came after them.

While Moses wanders the landscape (in the desert?) from the Berkshires and Martha’s Vineyard to Manhattan to Chicago, Lutie’s world is circumscribed by the streets of Harlem. She has one brief foray into the countryside where she works as a servant in a thinly disguised Old Lyme, Connecticut. In both cases, though, the protagonists are seeking to escape oppressive surroundings. Hers are far more straitened of course. Much of his escape has to do with running away from himself and the world he has created.

I tried to figure out why Herzog made Bowie’s list. Of course the novel is wild and brilliant. It won a National Book Award. Besides its genius, I believe it (like The Street) gave an Englishman a portrait of alien worlds before the Starman evolved.

 

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