Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow

This book was strongly recommended by two people in the MFA program last year, one of whom I respect. The other would have been better served pursuing an advanced degree in Platitudes and Pontificating. But I digress.

Bellow is one of those writers I can read even if I'm not interested in the story. His prose in Henderson is lush, the characters are real, and the themes are resonant. Good thing I like Bellow so much, because it took about 200 of the 286 pages for me to get into this story. Gene Henderson, though vividly drawn, couldn't arouse the smallest amount of sympathy in me, and most of his actions have a video-game feel to them. Nothing real seems at stake, and he moves from one calamity to the next as though he beat the level boss and gets to start over.

Once he's introduced to Atti the lion, though, Henderson gets to me. He's truly vulnerable at this point, and the stakes couldn't be clearer. My patience paid off, though I had started to waver. I'm not saying the first 200 pages of Henderson don't belong, because all of that context is necessary to the climax, but it was a trial. If you're not a patient reader, this might not be for you. But if you can luxuriate in a couple hundred pages of great writing before getting hooked, read this. It's worth it.

Now I get to start The Dream Life of Balso Snell.


Diana said...

Har! An advanced degree in Platitudes and Pontificating! I think I know who you're talking about.

And you're right.

Jason said...

I'm sure you know who I'm talking about. I don't like to call people names (quiet, you in the back), but she made my hair hurt. I'm not sure how she was admitted to the program, to be honest with you.