Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Showdown Is Here

Just finished Saul Bellow's The Victim. Quickly taken in by Bellow's second novel, a novella really, that he called his phD. The masterworks came later in his opinion; immediately after with maybe his best-known work Augie March, but also with later masterpieces like Herzog. All I know is this is a beautiful, concise, and subtle story.

Bellow's main characters are Asa Leventhal and Kirby Albee, the man who appears out of his past, claiming to have been wronged by Leventhal. Albee proceeds to impose himself on Leventhal's life and play off Leventhal's feelings of guilt for offenses real and imagined. Even though he makes anti-semitic comments to Leventhal, he plays mind games to the point that Leventhal starts wondering if maybe he did wrong Albee somehow.

I've always been a fan of books about doubles. Shelley's Frankenstein, Dostoevsky's The Double, Nabokov's Despair, Saramago's The Double. The Victim isn't completely in this tradition, but Leventhal's struggle with Albee reminds me of those books. He just can't shake him, and in the process his whole life seems to come apart at the seams. Leventhal says "the showdown is here" at one point when he's about to confront Albee about something. But in fact the showdowns continue, and Leventhal ends up housing Albee, giving him money, and rationalizing away Albee's anti-semitic remarks. He almost agrees to try and influence someone he knows to give Albee a job because Albee convinces him that being Jewish will help influence a Jewish employer.

Picked up The Victim for a quarter used at Black Cat Books in Manitou Springs, CO last week. Glad i did. It wasn't exactly an uplifting read, but it sure reminded me what an elegant writer Saul Bellow is.


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