Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Actual

This is the first Bellow that I've read and I'm curious now about the structures of his other works and how the themes in this novel may be traced back through his earlier writings. In terms of craft, I think this is the most impressive text we've read together this semester. The theme of the ways in which first loves/old loves resonate throughout one's life is common, but the complexity with which Bellow draws the interior and exterior life of his narrator makes The Actual exceptional.

It's an interesting reading move to go from Algren's Chicago: City on the Make to the razor- sharp, quick, clever dialogue of Bellow's characters. In both of these fast-moving, gritty Chicago texts we glimpse edgy portraits of two different classes of people in the city, and at the same time, all of the characters seem to have a belonging with each other. A desperation, a fractured -- or on the verge of fracturing -- sensibility, and a raggedness permeates each text.

In addition to the dialogue and revelations of the strange inner life of the narrator, what most caught my attention about this book is Bellow's unusual shifts in time. In several places in the book, the time-shifts are jarring, necessitating that I back-track through the narrative and retrace moments and conversations to get a clearer sense of time and place, and to differentiate between what is happening in real-time and what is being recollected. I don't view these sudden shifts in the text as distractions, but rather as signals of the complexity of craft at work here. I prefer to have a certain feeling of dislocation when I'm reading a text once it's been made apparent to me that the writer knows what he or she is doing, and that I can trust that my sense of not knowing exactly what is going on is only temporary.

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