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More Die of Heartbreak by Saul Bellow

More Die of Heartbreak (1987)

by Saul Bellow

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852516,349 (3.51)11
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Showing 5 of 5
A sad tale about the decline and disintegration of a noble academic botanist when he turns to finding satisfactions in personal life. Well worth the read. One feels that some editing would help before the plot engages, but that passes.
  ivanfranko | Apr 27, 2019 |
After I finished “Herzog” last year, I thought it was easily one of the best books I’d read in 2012. This book, published almost a quarter of a century later in 1987, leaves much to be desired. It continues many of the themes that one would readily recognize as prominent in Bellow’s novels – the sordid private lives of intellectuals, especially their romantic relationships, mixed in with a heady dose of the ideas those intellectuals live and work in. The book mostly traces the lives of two of these intellectuals - Kenneth Trachtenberg, a Russian studies professor who has moved from Paris to the Midwest to be at his uncle’s university, and his uncle Benn Crader, the world-famous botanist (or as Bellow cheekily puts it, “plant mystic.”)

Benn, while he’s had a phenomenally successful career, is utterly clueless about his romantic life, and Kenneth mercilessly dissects his private failures throughout the novel, in a way that almost makes you question his supposed reverence for his uncle. He repeatedly brings up – not to Benn in conversation, but to the reading audience - a one-time sexual encounter that Benn had with an older, drunk neighbor to whom he claimed to not be attracted but slept with anyway. She is exasperated when he then seems uninterested in her romantic intentions. Later, he meets a woman named Caroline who is manages to be simultaneously aloof and overbearing. Later still, he meets Matilda who claims to want an older, intelligent man. Benn marries her without Kenneth’s knowledge.

Kenneth, not surprisingly, has romantic problems of his own. While Benn is planning a wedding to Caroline, he is visiting Treckie, with whom he has one child. He notices that since their breakup, she has begun living with man whose sexual aggression has bruised her legs – something that Kenneth always refused to do.

The real pitfall of the novel is where Bellow’s exploration of Matilda’s father’s shady business dealings. He purchased Benn’s mother’s house for pennies on the dollar, only to have him and his friends greatly profit from it. Too much of the novel is spent discussing how Matilda’s father plans to make things right by Benn by seeing that receives a lot of this money so Matilda can get the wealthy husband she deserves. I thought it prevented this rich, deep discussion of the complexities of human relationships from being even better. And as I got further into the book, it seemed like the side story of how Matilda’s father made his living by screwing over Benn’s mother and her children became more central, and because of that I became less interested.

I’m usually not one to run toward facile interpretations which read a novel as a barely veiled version of the author’s own life, but that resisting that temptation is particularly difficult here. One can easily see in Bellow the same capacious intellect and rapacity for the history of ideas that we see in Benn and Kenneth, and consequently perhaps, the same lack of social and sexual sangfroid. Bellow was married five times, and two of those marriages lasted for only about three years each.

Caroline, Treckie, and Matilda could easily be versions of Bellow’s real-life romantic attachments. But even if they were, his trenchant analysis of romantic human needs and desires doesn’t stop with them; he’s just as critical of the detached, cool attitudes of Benn and Kenneth. I don’t think this is one of Bellow’s masterpieces, as I would openly admit of “Herzog” (“Augie March” and “Humboldt’s Gift” seem equally important, though I’ve read neither) but if you have an affinity for Bellow’s writing, this may be of interest. ( )
  kant1066 | Dec 7, 2013 |
This book definitely has the same kind of east-coast, masculine, sex-obsessed vibe as Philip Roth, but while that can sometimes be a little trying, it isn't necessarily a bad thing. Bellow is often very funny, and the pay off in the narrative for his characters' obsessive traits makes it all worthwhile.

[full review here: http://spacebeer.blogspot.com/2010/10/more-die-of-heartbreak-by-saul-bellow.html ] ( )
  kristykay22 | Oct 27, 2010 |
I took this back to the library in the end, I only got about halfway through. It wasn't that I didn't think it was well written, I thought it was beautifully written, it was that I just didn't much care what happened next, so it was never the book I chose to pick up... ( )
  joellalibrarything | Jan 28, 2010 |
Mildly entertaining. The only good thing I can say about this book is that it reminds me of Woody Allen movies, the bad thing is that it's not remotely as funny. My first introduction to Bellow, can't say it inspires me to read more. ( )
  peer35 | Feb 22, 2009 |
Showing 5 of 5
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L'anno scorso, in un periodo di crisi esistenziale, lo zio Benn (B. Crader, il noto botanico) mi fece vedere una vignetta di Charles Addams.
Information from the Italian Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Si vedeva una coppia di innamorati: i soliti personaggi tra il depravato e il desolato nella consueta cornice fatta di tombe e piante di tasso. L'uomo aveva un aspetto brutale e la donna, con i capelli lunghi (credo che i fans la chiamassero Mortisia), era vestita da strega. I due si tenevano la mano seduti su una panchina del cimitero, La didascalia diceva semplicemente:

"Sei infelice, cara?"
"Oh, sì. Sì! Completamente."
"[Benn Crader] Sul finire della vita si ha una specie di modulo del dolore da riempire - un modulo lungo come la denuncia dei redditi, solo che questa volta è il tuo modulo del dolore. Infinite categorie. Prima le cause fisiche - artrite, calcoli, crampi mestruali. Altra categoria, vanità offesa, tradimenti, inganni, ingiustizie. Ma le voci più difficili sono quelle dell'amore. Il punto allora è: perché dunque nessuno ci rinuncia? Se l'amore ci ferisce tanto a fondo che dappertuto se ne vedono i danni, perché non mettere la testa a partito e piantarla lì subito?"
Oggigiorno mantenere i contatti con i sentimenti originari, quei sentimenti che un saggio cinese chiama "il primo cuore", non è cosa facile, come sa ogni adulto che abbia un minimo d'esperienza. Il "primo cuore" o risulta deformato così da essere irriconoscibile, o è stato gettato nella fornace dell'io per tener calde le nostre necessità pragmatiche.
[...] i libri possono fare dei brutti schrzi. Se hai letto che esistono i filistei arrivi magari alla conclusione che non puoi essere un filisteo anche tu. Niente di più falso. Leggendo un libro, ti può anche capitare, senza che tu ti accorga di niente, di prendere una febbre segreta, di di impregnarti di rifiuti velenosi, oppure di rimanere ignaro della tempesta di sensazioni dentro di te della quale il libro ti tiene all'oscuro
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0688069355, Hardcover)

This is a humorous story of a man who leaves his native Paris to live in the USA with his uncle who has numerous romantic involvements. It is written by Saul Bellow who was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1976 for his novels "Herzog", "Mr Sammler's Planet", "Humbolt's Gift" and others.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:05:22 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

The tenth novel by Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Saul Bellow Kenneth Trachtenberg, an eccentric and witty native of Paris, travels to the Midwest to spend time with his famous American uncle, a world-renowned botanist and self-described "plant visionary." After numerous affairs and failed relationships, the restless Uncle Benn seeks a settled existence in the form of marriage-but tying the knot again opens the door to a host of new torments. Benn's erotic tendencies and disastrous relationships lead him and Kenneth into a hilarious and wonderful rompthrough America's mind-body dilemma-a journey in which Kenneth must also examine his own shortcomings with women. Philosophical and humorous, More Die of Heartbreak, mercilessly examines the inner workings of a man in desperate pursuit of happiness.

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