Saul Bellow (1915 — 2005) was an American writer, known as the spokesman of American contemporary literature. Born in 1915 in Racine, a suburb of Montreal, Canada, to Jewish immigrants from st. Petersburg, Russia. In 1924, the family moved to Chicago, USA. He attended the University of Chicago in 1933, and two years later transferred to Northwestern University, where he graduated in 1937 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and anthropology. In addition to the occupation as an editor, journalist, and merchant navy, Bellow spent most of his time as a college professor. He received honorary doctorates from Harvard, Yale, and Northwestern universities. Bellow wrote and published 11 novels, 3 novellas, 4 short stories, and a play. In addition, he also published three non-fiction works, such as travel notes, essays, and speech collections.
The protagonists in Bellow’s works all desire to pursue a better life and the meaning of life. Even Maggie, who is in a wandering situation, dreams of starting an orphanage. The pursuit of the perfect self and social life translates into the ideal of Bellow’s heroes. However, life not only rewards them with incentives but more often stabs them in the back without them noticing. Hence, most of the characters exemplify escapism from the harsh reality that is imposed upon them. There is an inescapable paradox between their search for freedom and their flight. Just as they dream of playing the noble role of helping the world and saving the common, they are also victims of the cruel world.
The works of Saul Bellow are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.
The text of “Dangling Man” unfolds in the form of a diary. The story follows the complicated psychology of Joseph, the Jewish protagonist, who resigned and waits to enlist during World War II. Joseph had planned to use the delay in enlistment to relax and enjoy his freedom before joining the army. Joseph had no peace of mind. He stayed indoors all day long, lost in his own inner world. Joseph peeks into the world through the closed room, the emotional catharsis in the diary, at the same time record the emotional changes and the world. He did not know who he was, could not find a place in society, and gradually became a lonely patient rejected by his family and abandoned by his friends. Joseph had to talk to his alter ego, the surrogate elf. Joseph swung back and forth between the ideal and the reality, with loneliness and bewilderment constantly attacking him. He even began to doubt about family, marriage, friendship and future, and finally became a dangling man free from the society.
The heroes in Bellow’s works all have good wishes for a better life and the meaning of life. It is the consistent ideal of Bellow’s heroes to pursue perfect self and then perfect social life. However, life rewards them with hurt again and again, so they choose to flee. An inescapable paradox lies between their search and their flight. Just as they dream of playing the lofty role of helping the world and saving the world, in real life they are victims. The eternal contradiction between ideal and reality is reflected in them vividly. No matter how good they are in their professional fields, they are extremely clumsy in real life. Although Bellow’s heroes also persistently pursue their own ideals, they are fundamentally different from the traditional heroes. The traditional heroes leave behind a noble beauty of tragedy with arduous struggle, final failure, and destruction while the hero of Bellow leaves behind a paradoxical color.
That Time I Joined the Circus by J.J. Howard is about Lexi Ryan, a native New Yorker, forced to look for her mother after a tragic accident took the life of her father. Tracking her mother down to a circus in the middle of Florida, Lexi leaves New York on a one-way bus ticket to the location of the circus. Arriving at the circus, she soon finds out that her mother is not there. Despite her mother’s absence, Lexi finds a home for herself, and people who are willing to accept her and take her in. Settling and enjoying her time at the circus, Lexi’s world is thrown into turmoil when her best friend, Eli from New York, shows up at the circus. This debut of a book has humor, wisdom, and a great narrator.
I have had this book for years now, and it is one of the novels on my shelf that I read over and over again. Despite reading it so many times, I am still intrigued by the storyline and the characters. Admiring how Lexi was able to overcome her various obstacles, I thoroughly enjoyed her character. As for the plotline, I did not really enjoy the fact that it jumped back and forth from Lexi’s life before her Father’s death to her time spent at the circus. I enjoyed thoroughly the familial aspect among Lexi and the people of the circus; especially, Lexi’s friendship with the daughters of the ringleader was sweet. Despite its title, there are many other elements to this amazing book besides the circus. I would recommend this book for those looking for a contemporary circus story.