Monday, May 19, 2003

Review of Saul Bellow's Ravelstein

Saul Bellow’s Ravelstein is well known as the very lightly fictionalized biography of Alan Bloom, the influential author of the now classic neo-conservative manifesto The Closing of the American Mind. Alan Bloom, like Ravelstein was consumed by the political, the Jewish, the good life, and the Just.

While the protagonist was fascinating, the book itself was not. It was a rather quick read, and gave us a glimpse, really the briefest glimpse, of the life of Ravelstein, it did little to present who he must have been. Bellow can be excused for not plunging in to the depths of the political and philosophical thought that was always falling out of the mind that must have been Bloom’s. That was not his job, but what was not forgivable is that he did not give us a feel for what Bloom was like. We learned a few facts about Bloom/Ravelstein, and a bit of what he was like and what he thought was interesting, like gossip, traveling first class, heck – doing everything first class.

We do not get a feel for what Ravelstien’s relationships were like, not with his students, enemies, or friends. We mostly learn a lot about what his relationship was with Saul Bellow. And frankly Bellow had a rather uninteresting relationship with Bloom. At the end, Bellow drops Ravelstein altogether and just talks about himself (as “Chick”).

I guess people read the book to see the one or two scandalous stuff about Bloom. OK, so bloom was gay and died of AIDS. Wow. I am really not sure what I was supposed to take out of this novel. The way Bellow writes it, you would think it was some big labor of love, to write such an ode to a friend. But it was kind of banal. Definitely not worthy of a writer like Bellow. I expected more. Bellow was a big fan of Bloom. He wrote the intro to his opus. He could have done more than the large piece of self-indulgent fluff that eventually was Ravelstein.