The critic Irving Howe described Saul Bellow as “a mingling of high-flown intellectual bravado with racy, tough street Jewishness.” I’ve just read The Adventures of Augie March and fell in love with its jazzy, colloquial opening lines (“I am an American, Chicago born – Chicago, that somber city – and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted: sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes not so innocent”) that heralded an exuberant departure for American fiction in 1953.
Augie March opens in 1920s Chicago during the Great Depression. Augie is “the by-blow of a travelling man”, finding his feet through his engagement with a kind of America that had not been run to earth in fiction before. He becomes a butler, a shoe salesman, a paint-seller, a dog-groomer and a book thief.
Sixty-two years and some 500 pages long and later, Augie says..“It takes some of us a long time,”..“to find out what the price is of being in nature, and what the facts are about your tenure.” Quite so.