56 of 62 people found the following review helpful
Nobody Makes It Through Life Alive,
This review is from: The Adventures of Augie March (Classic, 20th-Century, Penguin) (Paperback)
When I was a kid, some of my classmates already knew what they wanted to be. They marched in a straight line towards the goal. I, however, never knew what I wanted to do. I liked studying, but had no vision of a future. I drifted along and climbed into whatever boats came within reach. Augie March is a young Chicagoan from a broken home, who drifts with the tides as well, in the period 1927-1947. He winds up smuggling illegal immigrants, stealing books, travelling to Mexico, trying to train an eagle to catch iguanas, and playing poker. After a few good, bad and indifferent experiences with women, he joins the Merchant Marine during World War II, gets married to a would-be actress, and survives a ship torpedoing. When we leave Augie, he's making illegal business deals in Europe. Has he ever made a really conscious decision ? It's not clear. Bellow's novel is full of humor, philosophy, and insights on life. For example, on page 305 --"But I had the idea also that you don't take so wide a stand that it makes a human life impossible, nor try to bring together irreconciliables that destroy you, but try out what of human you can live with first."
THE ADVENTURES OF AUGIE MARCH is an almost endless literary parade of portraits, of weird and wonderful characters from many walks of life. It's like a pilgrimage back in time to another America, another age---perhaps more innocent in some respects, but not so smooth, not so well-rounded, a thrusting, struggling America where raw money power arbited so much. Even though the book could have been cut down a bit here and there because 617 pages is overlong, Bellow's novel will remain a classic of American and world fiction for two reasons. First, because human nature scarcely changes. So many of the people surrounding Augie March are universal characters, found everywhere and everywhen. Their motives are not simple, their behavior sometimes inexplicable, but always within the realm of the word "human". They strive, they succeed, they fail, they cop out, and they never remain the same. They transform as they live. Life reshapes them. The second reason that I think this book will remain a classic-and the reason why I'm giving it five stars on Amazon---is the language. Hemingway and Fitzgerald wrote clearly and simply. Perhaps we can say that Hawthorne and Melville's prose was very ornate, stylistic. Faulkner....well, yes, Faulkner. But Bellow's prose reminded me of nothing so much as a Persian carpet---colorful, ornate, and full of useless little frills that lead nowhere, do not relate to much, and yet add such richness to the text. Some examples that I liked (but the novel is chock full of them) p.156 "For there was his stability in the green leather seat, plus his unshaking, high-placed knees beside the jade onion of the gear knob, his hands trimmed with sandy hairs on the wheel, the hypersmoothness of the motor that made you feel deceived in the speedometer that stood at eighty."
p.205 on the ancient Greeks " But still they are the admiration of the rest of the mud-sprung, famine-knifed, street-pounding, war-rattled, difficult, painstaking, kicked in the belly, grief and cartilage mankind, the multitude, some under a coal-sucking Vesuvius of chaos smoke, some inside a heaving Calcutta midnight, who very well know where they are."
p.227 `Well, now, who can really expect the daily facts to go, toil or prisons to go, oatmeal and laundry tickets and all the rest, and insist that all moments be raised to the greatest importance, demand that everyone breathe the pointy, star-furnished air at its highest difficulty, abolish all brick, vault-like rooms, all dreariness, and live like prophets or gods ?"
Wow ! If you like writing like this, if you want a rich feast of language, Bellow is your man and this is your novel.