Monday, January 19, 2015

Book Review: "Seize The Day" by Saul Bellow

Saul Bellow is an author that intrigued me with his portrayal of the everyman. Most of these men are Jewish, just as he was, which causes he to be very reminiscent of film director Woody Allen. Bellow won multiple literary prizes, including a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1976. Drawn in by his intriguing background, I decided to purchase Seize the Day off of Amazon, since buying a copy at full price was just too costly. At just 114 pages long when published by Penguin Classics, this is meant to be a light read... by size it is meant to be a light read. This novel can also be deemed as being enlightening... by the fact that it stresses the heck out of you by things that are meant to be. When a novel is this short and this costly (like Dr. Spencer Johnson's self-help book Who Moved My Cheese), it becomes a struggle when asked whether or not this is a work that should be recommended. Perhaps it will be up to you to be the judge.

Tommy Wilhelm had everything within his grasp and yet he let everything go through his fingers as if it was sand. Born with the last name of Adler, the name held by his pompous, psychiatrist father, he drops out of college and gets a job in Hollywood. This job fails, as does his marriage at his own discretion. He is separated from his wife Margaret, two sons, and even his dog, Scissors. The only time his wife wants anything to do with him is when it is time for him to pay alimony. Margaret is cold, like Judith Harper is from Two & A Half Men. The only difference is that Margaret is put up against a man (Tommy) who has a great deal of pity and longs to better himself while not taking the opportunities he is granted. Margaret speaks sense, while Judith's "go-to" remark is threatening to contact her lawyer. He does come across a girl named Olive, but because Margaret refuses to grant him a divorce, the marriage cannot go off.

Tommy is not surrounded by the greatest of individuals. His psychiatrist father, Dr. Adler, does not help him, but instead remind him time and time again how he failed to be the ideal son. Margaret is very manipulative, because the guilt she uses to lure money out of Tommy is just so practical, but yet she does not want to take the extra mile in doing so. Her excuse has to do with the fear that her sons will end up being members of or the victims of gangs. Tommy turns to a sketchy Dr. Tamkin for relief, because Tamkin seems to tell him the most of what he wants to hear. Hooking him up with an older man named Rappaport brings into the greatest amount of easy feelings. Rappaport delivers the most enlightening lines about those that don't need have, while those that need don't have. This seems to stand more parallel to not asking for more than what you need, but Tommy's character is enigmatic, that it would take real psychological analysis to sort out the issue.

Tommy is meant to be the center of sympathy in this novel, but Bellow creates a world that is cynical toward these ideas. The question at hand is: do we live in a cynical world or does Tommy possess the strongest feelings of self-pity? Both answers are reasonable. Tommy is placed in an environment to which those around him are also making an attempt to seek the relief that they need, but yet not to the great extent that Tommy is begging. Tommy put himself into a lot of his issues, though many of them fell to issues of luck or fortune. With this novel, Bellow plays on the idea that perhaps we the reader need to second guess what we should think about Tommy.

This was a "Baby Swiss cheese work." With that, I say that I felt there were some minor holes within the novel, but not too big that these holes brought it down. There was a lot more that I wanted to know about Tommy that the novel could have been at least another forty pages and it would have not hurt the novel. The details we are given provide some character development, but we could have been given a lot more detail in order to establish an efficient connection. We don't hear so much about his sons or Scissors the dog. Speaking of Scissors, the only reason he should have been denied the opportunity to take the dog is that he had an intense connection to the kids. This and other points within the novel develop a frustration that in some ways superseded my ability to enjoy the message that was brought forth by this novel.

This kind of brutal enlightenment gave me enough of a reason to explore more of Saul Bellow's novels, but I would have to say that this particular work should either be rented or purchased at a price no more than $10. If you don't want the feeling that you want to pull your hair out of your head, then perhaps a better read will work. While it would be for (somewhat) the right reasons, a lot of understanding is needed to swallow this one.

Verdict: 6/10

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