Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Adventures of Augie March - Saul Bellow

The Adventures of Augie March
Title: The Adventures of Augie March
Author: Saul Bellow
Publication Date: 1953
Pages: 586
Genre: Classic / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels list
Date Completed: 10/15/15

Summary: Augie March, a Chicagoan born during the Great Depression, recounts the story of his life and the adventures therein. Bellow's classic work comes across as almost episodic as Augie has one unique experience after another.

What I Thought: This book could so easily be turned into a TV show or a miniseries. As Augie goes from one (mis)adventure to another, an astute reader can easily see episodes forming under the right direction. The right writing team could drag it out quite well: a season containing Augie's trip to St. Joseph (which, ironically, is my husband's hometown and, thus, was quite fun for me to read about in an historical context), a season of Augie and his unscrupulous brother trying to climb the social ladder, a season with Thea in Mexico....I'm picturing this British-TV style with 6-8 episodes per series; or, better yet, as a two-hour episodes of a miniseries. It really surprises me that this has not been done already.

Beyond the book's potential as an award-winning miniseries, I cannot say I loved it. If I am being painfully honest (when am I not?), I found it boring. I was not enchanting by Augie's adventures. Rather, I found him indecisive and flighty. I felt about Augie similarly to how I felt about Dean Moriarty and even in some ways, Clyde Griffiths. Augie is not quite as bad as either, but I do not see a lot of morally redeeming qualities in these character. I want a protagonist who is striving to do right and live well, not in a financial sense, but a socially conscious one. I like characters who seek the same things I do or, at the very least, pursue their desires guided by a similar moral compass to my own. The adventures of a boy who seems to have little real respect for women, albeit more than some of his contemporaries, and who has few qualms about making a living through shady transactions leave me wanting. 

As with so many books from the 100 Best Novels list, I can recognize why Bellow's work is lauded. Just as with The Catcher in the Rye, it serves as the voice of a generation and a specific member thereof. I have no doubt countless boys and men saw themselves in Augie March and resonated with his desires and struggles. Those who were tied down to more stable lives that Augie's may have even read about his decisions made on whim and longed for some of the same freedom and even irresponsibility. I, however, neither admire nor long for such adventures. I love adventures, but, at least in my book, adventure does not have to include such morally ambiguous activities or aims.

I must sound like a total prude or, at the least, a hypocrite; after all, I don't seem to mind some of the same things in other books or media I take in. Is it just my inability to connect with Augie on any level or my boredom with Bellow's plot? Why do I feel so harshly about Augie's sexual dalliances and shady business dealings? I honestly don't know. It's not particularly over the top in this book compared to so many others. Certainly not to the level of From Here to Eternity. Maybe I'm just looking for something to complain about, and this seems worthwhile enough to be justified. 

The book really is good if you enjoy this genre or type of story. It just doesn't fit my interests well. That's one thing I'm learning about this whole adventure. "Classic" is not a genre in and of itself. Rather, there are nearly as many types of novels within those we call "classic" as there are in any modern bookstore. We just lump them all together because of age or status. A book's inclusion in the "classic" grouping does not automatically mean I will enjoy it. Still, I push on, knowing that the mere absorption of great writing will help me to be a better writer and a better reader. I can hope to continue to find some gems along the way, too.

Rating: ★★★☆☆
Will I Re-Read: Doubtful

A Reduced Review: The wanderings and adventures of a young man should be more interesting than this...right?

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