“The Adventures of Augie March” by Saul Bellow
“Look at me, going everywhere! Why, I am a sort of Columbus of those near-at-hand and believe you can come to them in this immediate terra incognita that spreads out in every gaze. I may well be a flop at this line of endeavor. Columbus too thought he was a flop, probably, when they sent him back in chains. Which didn’t prove there was no America.”
This passage, which closes Saul Bellow’s “The Adventures of Augie March,” pretty much sums up the entire book. The story of a young man who drifts from job to girl to another job to another girl, never really settling into anything, has been called “The Great American Novel” by folks such as Salman Rushdie – but I’m not sure I agree. Though I read it, I never felt emotionally invested in any of the characters, particularly not in the main character, and I kept waiting for a plot – or at least a serious problem – to emerge. It never happened.
The most interesting parts of the novel involve Augie’s adventures in Mexico with a girl named Thea, who has decided to buy a falcon that can hunt and sell stories and pictures about their adventures with the bird to magazines. The plan is a flop, like many of the schemes in the book, but Thea is at least more than one-dimensional, which is a nice change from other characters, who come in and out of the narrative for one reason or another. The members of Augie’s family, and most of the people he encounters, aren’t terribly well-developed or that interesting. (Augie’s older brother Simon, who marries into money, is one exception.)
Maybe I’m just not a Saul Bellow fan. This is the first Bellow work I’ve read, and I’m not really dying to read another one. Whatever. Different strokes for different folks….
All that aside – “The Adventures of Augie March” is the current selection of the “One Book, One Chicago” program, which encourages the city to get behind one specific book and read/discuss it. I’ve participated in past outings of the program – focusing on Neil Gaiman’s “Neverwhere,” and Toni Morrison’s “A Mercy” – and it’s been really interesting. This time around, there’s everything from staged readings of the book to tours of Augie’s Chicago. Check out the awesome events that are coming up at Chicago Public Library and take part — most/many of them are free.
Hey, I may not be a fan of the book, but I get why it was chosen for the 10th anniversary of the “One Book, One Chicago” program. The book is incredibly Chicago, and Bellow is Chicago legend. I’m glad I read it, even if it didn’t wow me.