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by Saul Bellow

Pub Date: Oct. 10th, 1989
ISBN: 0140126864
Publisher: Penguin

Hard on the heels of Theft (1989), another Bellow 100-pager in paperback original: this time the tale of one Harry Fonstein, saved from the Holocaust by the underground organization of Broadway impresario Billy Rose (Bellarosa, to the wartime Italians), then later cold-shouldered by the show-biz celeb himself. Having fled the Nazis from Poland to Italy, Fonstein finds himself mysteriously wafted from a Rome jail cell to end up, by a subtle and devious route, endowed with an American wife named Sorella (overweight, a teacher of French) and living successfully as a businessman in New Jersey. Naturally enough, Fonstein wants to meet Billy Rose and express his gratitude ("I owe him my life"), but his calls aren't answered, he's turned away at the office, and once--at Sardi's--he's forcibly prevented from approaching the man himself. Fonstein may or may not be resigned to such unnatural rebuffs, but his persistent wife Sorella certainly isn't. In 1959, she and Fonstein are vacationing in Jerusalem when the rich and famous Billy Rose is there also--dedicating a memorial garden. The obese but passionate Sorella has brought with her the wildly incriminating secret diaries of a disgruntled (and deceased) staff member of Rose's--with which she confronts him, threatening publication if he won't agree "to sit down with my husband for fifteen minutes." Result? No go. Billy Rose won't budge ("Remember, forget--what's the difference to me?"). A moment of laugh-aloud comedy ensues, yet nothing changes: Rose won't see Fonstein, people's lives go on. The narrator of the story--a shirttail relative of Fonstein's who has become rich by running a memory institute in Philadelphia--tries to get back in touch with Fonstein and Sorella 30 years later, casting doubt on his own thesis that "memory is life" and peering into an abyss that the high-rolling Billy Rose ("Tiny, greedy, smart") just may have seen long before him. Subtle, complex, and tricky, a wry-toned look deep into gloom: fine, vintage Bellow in the shorter form.