Although I was Ravelstein's senior by a good many years, we were close friends. There were sophomoric elements in my character as there were in his, and these leveled the ground and evened things up. A man who knew me well said that I was more innocent than any adult had the right to be. As if I had chosen to be naïve. Besides, the fact is that even extremely naïve people know their own interests. Very simple women understand when it's time to draw the line with a difficult husband-when to siphon the money out of their joint back account. I paid no particular attention to self-preservation. But luckily - or perhaps not too luckily - this is cornucopia-time, an era of abundance in all civilized nations. Never, on the material side, have huge populations been better protected from hunger and sickness. And this partial release from the struggle for survival makes people naïve. By this I mean their wishful fantasies are unchecked. You begin, in accordance with an unformulated agreement, to accept the terms, invariably falsified, on which others present themselves. You deaden your critical powers. You stifle your shrewdness. Before you know it you are paying a humongous divorce settlement to a woman who had more than once declared that she was an innocent who had no understanding of money matters.
In approaching a man like Ravelstein, a piecemeal method is perhaps best.
Reprinted from Ravelstein by Saul Bellow by permission of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright 2000, Saul Bellow. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission
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