The Actual: A Novella (Penguin Classics)

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9780143105848: The Actual: A Novella (Penguin Classics)

“The work of a great master still locked in unequal combat with Eros and Time.” –The New York Times Book Review

In this dazzling work of fiction, Nobel Laureate Saul Bellow writes comically and wisely about the tenacious claims of first love. Harry Trellman, an aging, astute businessman, has never belonged anywhere and is as awkward in his human attachments as he is gifted in observing the people around him. But Harry's observational talents have not gone unnoticed by "trillionaire" Sigmund Adletsky, who retains Harry as his advisor. Soon the old man discovers Harry's intense forty-year passion for a twice-divorced interior designer, Amy Wustrin. At the exhumation and reburial of her husband, Harry is provided, thanks to Sigmund, perhaps the final means for disclosing feelings amassed over a lifetime. Written late in Bellow's career, The Actual is a maestro's dissection of the affairs of the heart.

This Penguin Classics edition contains an introduction by Joseph O'Neill.

For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.

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About the Author:

Saul Bellow was praised for his vision, his ear for detail, his humor, and the masterful artistry of his prose. Born of Russian Jewish parents in Lachine, Quebec in 1915, he was raised in Chicago. He received his Bachelor's degree from Northwestern University in 1937, with honors in sociology and anthropology, and did graduate work at the University of Wisconsin. During the Second World War he served in the Merchant Marines.

His first two novels, Dangling Man (1944) and The Victim (1947) are penetrating, Kafka-like psychological studies. In 1948 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and spent two years in Paris and traveling in Europe, where he began his picaresque novel The Adventures of Augie March, which went on to win the National Book Award for fiction in 1954. His later books of fiction include Seize the Day (1956); Henderson the Rain King (1959); Mosby's Memoirs and Other Stories (1968); Mr. Sammler's Planet (1970); Humboldt's Gift (1975), which won the Pulitzer Prize; The Dean's December (1982); More Die of Heartbreak (1987); Theft (1988); The Bellarosa Connection (1989);The Actual (1996); Ravelstein (2000); and, most recently, Collected Stories(2001). Bellow has also produced a prolific amount of non-fiction, collected in To Jerusalem and Back, a personal and literary record of his sojourn in Israel during several months in 1975, and It All Adds Up, a collection of memoirs and essays.

Bellow's many awards include the International Literary Prize for Herzog, for which he became the first American to receive the prize; the Croix de Chevalier des Arts et Lettres, the highest literary distinction awarded by France to non-citizens; the B'nai B'rith Jewish Heritage Award for "excellence in Jewish Literature"; and America's Democratic Legacy Award of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, the first time this award has been made to a literary personage. In 1976 Bellow was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature "for the human understanding and subtle analysis of contemporary culture that are combined in his work."

From Kirkus Reviews:

Nobel laureate Bellow's recent penchant for the novella (A Theft, The Bellarosa Connection, both 1989) continues with this witty portrayal of late-life intrigue, politicking, and passion. Chicagoan Harry Trellman, the story's narrator, is a semi- retired importer whose cautious demeanor and unusual physiognomy (he describes his countenance as ``Chinese-looking'') have made him a kind of outsider--from the centers of financial power and also from the satisfactions of romantic love. A ``first-class noticer,'' Harry is appropriated as an advisor by elderly Sigmund Adletsky, trillionaire hotel magnate, and, as a chance by-product of joining Adletsky's ``brain trust,'' Harry is reunited with Amy Wustrin, the woman he'd loved decades ago, and with the bittersweet memory of Amy's late husband and his old pal, faithless, freewheeling Jay (``If being sexual was like being drunk, Jay was something like a drunken driver''). Bellow expertly tangles these characters' lives together: Amy, an interior decorator, is hired to assess the value of furnishings in a luxury apartment the Adletskys covet--owned by Bodo Heisinger, whose wife Madge was convicted and imprisoned for hiring a hit man to kill Bodo, who nevertheless continued to adore her and secured her release. Though Harry thinks he's separated, by looks and lifestyle, from this melodramatic human muddle (``I see myself taking pleasure in these assorted people, their motives, their behavior''), he learns he's one of them--a perception emphatically confirmed by a cliffhanger ending recalling that of Bellow's great short novel Seize the Day. The working-out of these intricate plotlines is rather perfunctory, and a few redundancies have escaped editing, but the writing is sharp, and we're absorbed by the personalities of several vividly sketched characters, especially Harry, one of Bellow's most engaging everymen. Like Augie March, Harry Trellman chooses life; like Tommy Wilhelm (of Seize the Day), he's shaped and driven not by intellectual or social imperatives, but by the insistent proddings of ``the heart's ultimate need.'' -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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