When I first started reading Saul Bellow’s The Actual, I thought, at first, Bellow was talking to the reader. I was unsure if he was creating a character or if it was he himself talking to his audience. I checked if I missed an author’s note or prologue heading but there was and still is none. I felt pretty sure that Bellow was creating a character, but there was a small part of me that felt I was going to be surprised to find that it was the author actually talking. When Harry Trellman told the audience he looks Chinese, I looked at the picture of Saul Bellow on the back cover trying to see if he looks Chinese, while still unsure if he is creating a character or talking as himself. I have no experience with any of Bellow’s books, so while I was reading him for the first time, I tried to get some sort of feel for him.
That is where much of my confusion was floating as I began The Actual. I kept reading, and I felt pretty sure Bellow was creating a character who was talking to an audience, but this character felt so real. There is an incredible honesty that Harry Trellman possesses that allows him to view his life and the life of others in a very particular way. There is something about Bellow’s writing that has an intense directness and powerful use of language that allows this character to come into being within the novella’s first paragraph. Both Bellow and Harry know people better than they know themselves. I believe this is truer for Harry, because I don’t know much about Saul Bellow. There is a deep trust that Harry has in his readers. He clearly explains his orphan-like up bringing, his small successes, his feelings on Chicago and it’s “emptiness”, and the beginnings of his relationship with Adletsky. I find this stuff important, because Harry does not seem to like to talk about these personal things, especially when it comes to Adletsky who, Harry says, “had been so fully briefed that there would be no talk abut my origins, education, accomplishments – thank God.” Harry is no simple kind of man. The rest of novel revolves around him and some of his complicated relationships especially that with Amy Wustrin, a woman he briefly dated in high school, but is still madly in love with her in a very human way. Human because its not like the romantic comedies or dramas. It isn’t sentimental in any way. It is odd and, in the end, that is what love ends up being.