Saul Bellow’s The Actual has good points and bad points. I found much of the novel to be boring, with a lot of useless information about rich people that I don’t care about. It seems like the novel has a lot of exposition and not a lot of action. Pages go by and nothing much happens to advance the story.
The novel is saved, however, by several things. The first is the in depth Chicago atmosphere. You really feel like you are in Chicago as El platforms and cold winters are described. Following these lines are the characters.
Although the characters are not John Goodman’s, “Da Bears,” guys, they are nonetheless very Chicago and very interesting. All of the characters seem larger than life, willing to do more than just the norm. They take back their wife, even after she hires a hit man. Furthermore, the wife’s accomplice (who also might be a former lover) is to be compensated with money, to “help him get back on his feet.” The characters in this story are quite unusual, and sometimes comical. They really feel like larger than life Chicagoans.
By far my favorite part of the novel was the ending. In fact it seems that the whole novel is a long winding drive through the woods, with lots of sightseeing, cumulating in a nice happy log cabin where you and your spouse can have a romantic weekend. I know that comparison is a bit crazy, but it makes sense; the end of the novel is happy. The narrator proposes to Amy, his long lost (or, if not lost, untouchable) love. This is really sweet. So often in literature, unless the ending of the novel is either so obscure as to frustrate or so depressing as to make one want to commit suicide. This is what is often held up to be great literature. Not so with The Actual. The end of the novel is both clear (they are standing in a graveyard and Amy has just been proposed too) and hopeful. (I choose to think she said yes and the two characters run away together and live happily ever after.) This is a great ending. It left me feeling happy- almost like I just arrived at a log cabin for a romantic weekend.
So my metaphor does make sense.
In conclusion, I greatly enjoyed the Actual. At times when I was reading it I found myself growing bored, but at the end, I was very glad that I read it. I guess if I was giving this book a review, my review would be, “Weird, but in a good way.” (This could also go along with the romantic weekend in the woods theme, but I will leave that to your imagination.) The weird thing about this book was that it was boring while it was going on, but the ending, particularly most of the cemetery scene, and for sure the last page, are fantastic, and really tie the whole book together.