Sunday, February 19, 2012
The Actual by Saul Bellow
The Actual (1997) is yet another (3rd in a row) 100-something page novella. Harry Trellman (p. 8), 60 years old, is the narrator and protagonist. His Asiatic face has reinforced his sense of having "a masked character" and made him a nihilist. He becomes a member of Sigmund Adletsky's "brain trust," (p.15) a character modelled after Sheldon Adelson, a casino/hotel magnate, at one time 3rd richest man in the world. Long time love of his life, Amy Wustrin appears on the scene as interior decorator for Adletsky. She is "the Actual" (p. 100). Harry's friend Jay becomes 2nd husband to Amy, but nevertheless Jay invites Harry to a postprandial shower a trois with Amy (p. 24), and left them alone under the hot water. No consummation however. Jay is a practical joker and arranges to be buried in a plot next to Amy's mother. He dies and later, when Amy's father
dies, she exhumes his body. Adletsky loans his stretch limo to Harry and he gets some alone time with Amy, and proposes, better late than never. Begley opines "The Actual is not a young man's piece of fiction....it is the work of a great master still locked in unequal combat with Eros and Time."
The term "moronic inferno" (p. 43) is once again used by Bellow, which would be adopted by Martin Amis in a collection of short stories. There is an obscure reference (pp. 56 and 104) to a Russian philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev and his book Slavery and Freedom (1939) as well as T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral (p. 64).