Abe Ravelstein is a brilliant professor at a prominent Midwestern university and a man who glories in training the movers and shakers of the political world. He has lived grandly and ferociously--and much beyond his means. His close friend Chick has suggested that he put forth a book of his convictions about the ideas which sustain humankind, or kill it, and much to Ravelstein's own surprise he does and becomes a millionaire. Ravelstein suggests in turn that Chick write a memoir or life of him, and during the course of a celebratory trip to Paris the two share thoughts on mortality, philosophy and history, loves and friends old and new, old suits, and vaudeville routines from the remote past. The mood turns more somber once they have returned to the midwest and Ravelstein succumbs to AIDS and Chick himself nearly dies.
Deeply insightful and always moving, Saul Bellow's new novel is a journey through love and memory. It is brave, dark, and bleakly funny; an elegy to friendship and lives well (or badly) lived.
Odd that mankind's benefactors should be amusing people. In America at least this is often the case. Anyone who wants to govern the country has to entertain it. During the Civil War people complained about Lincoln's funny stories. Perhaps he sensed that strict seriousness was far more dangerous than any joke. But critics said that he was frivolous and his own Secretary of War referred to him as an ape.
Among the debunkers and spoofers who formed the tastes and minds of my generation H. L. Mencken was the most prominent. My high school friends, readers of the American Mercury, were up on the Scopes trial as Mencken reported it. Mencken was very hard on William Jennings Bryan and the Bible Belt and Boobus Americanus. Clarence Darrow, who defended Scopes, represented science, modernity, and progress. To Darrow and Mencken, Bryan the Special Creationist was a doomed Farm Belt absurdity. In the language of evolutionary theory Bryan was a dead branch of the life-tree...
If you liked Ravelstein, try these:
A magnificent meditation on a pivotal decade in our nation's history, is in every way different from the profane and sclerotic antihero of Sabbath's Theater.
A moving, ambitious and richly conceived novel that summons up the heroics and follies of twentieth-century life.
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