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RAVELSTEIN by Saul Bellow


by Saul Bellow

Pub Date: April 24th, 2000
ISBN: 0-670-84134-X
Publisher: Viking

The Nobel laureate's first full-length novel in more than a decade (since More Die of Heartbreak, 1987) is a pungent intellectual drama that's short on plot but contains some of the sharpest, most provocative writing of his long and honorable career. The narrator, identified only as "Chick," is an elderly writer who relates—in a vigorous mixture of narrative, speculation, and reminiscence that sparkles with zesty combative dialogue—the story of his friendship with (the somewhat younger) Abe Ravelstein, a charismatic professor of political science who has become an international celebrity mage ("He interpreted Rousseau to the French, Machiavelli to the Italians, et cetera"), and authored an inexplicably bestselling "summa" of his ideas. Ravelstein, homosexual and dying of AIDS, has urged Chick to write a memoir of him. Their lives are intertwined in various ways (Chick's young second wife Rosamund, for example, was Ravelstein’s prize student). But Chick is conflicted, knowing how much they also differ: he’s a receiver of sensory impressions, an ontological observer for whom the physical world is a gift we spend our lives unwrapping; Ravelstein is an unregenerate theorist who insists men live guided by "rational principles" (despite overpowering evidence of his sensual appetite). Only after Ravelstein's death, when Chick himself nearly dies from a perversely "accidental" neurological illness, does the acolyte (for such he surely is) come closer to understanding the extent to which his hectoring "teacher" has also been his scourge, Platonic "other half" (seeking union), and conscience. Bellow tangles these lives and worldviews together brilliantly, in an essentially static drama that vibrates with paradoxical wit and submerged (though almost physically intense) feeling. It's mostly talk—but what talk! This is a novel that grabs you by the neck and forces you to think, and rewards you with a dazzling insight or superbly turned phrase or sentence on virtually every page. The work of a master, who has lost none of his unique ability to entertain, enthrall, and enlighten.