After the behemoth that was The Sound and the Fury, I decided that something quick would be best. And wouldn’t you know, Saul Bellow’s Seize the Day clocked in at 118 pages. Perfect. I don’t know much about Saul Bellow, to be perfectly honest, and I’d never read him before. I had no idea what to expect. But I knew that he’s listed several times as one of the American Greats. And this is, after all, my Great American Literature summer tour, so there you have it.
The plot of the novel covers one day, which seems insignificant, but the weight of the past and the terrifying emptiness of the future makes it a potentially life-changing day for Tommy Wilhelm. A man in his mid-to-late 40s, Wilhelm is in a lot of debt, out of a job, and trying to get out of his marriage so he can marry a younger woman. He’s a mess. He’s also foolishly invested his savings into the stocks that his friend, a Dr. Tamkin (who I envisaged as one Tobias Funke), who calls himself a psychologist, but is probably a total quack. Wilhelm also realizes that his relationship with his father has been destroyed beyond repair, and the series of his life choices have brought him to this moment, in which his future could be unmoored and penniless.
It’s a rather grim read, and a frustrating one, because this anguish could totally have been prevented. Maybe that’s Bellow’s point. Maybe it’s a metaphor (and I won’t try to tease that out, because it could just be the academic in me reading into stuff), or maybe it’s a harbinger of things to come for the United States economy. Either way, I found myself engrossed in Wilhelm’s tale of woe, and the ending itself leaves an evocative image, one that I won’t easily forget.
You can also read this review on my personal blog, The Universe Disturbed.