Thursday, June 27, 2019

The Adventures of Augie Marsh by Saul Bellow

"I am an American, Chicago born -- Chicago, that somber city -- and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way". 

The Adventures of Augie Marsh by Saul Bellow took the literary world by storm when it was published in 1953 and today it is considered one of the great novels of 20th century literature and I am in full agreement.  There isn't much of a plot to the book though.  Augie goes about his life haphazardly in an effort to find his place in the world.  That said, what makes this novel so good is the writing, a "cascade of prose" as it has been described.   The amount of talent and work it must have taken Saul Bellow to produce this classic is awe inspiring.

And so when The Adventures of Augie Marsh begins it is the 1920's and Augie is a young boy growing up in a poor section of Chicago.  Augie lives with his mother Rebecca, his older brother Simon, his younger mentally disabled brother George and Grandma Lausch. The father is absent and Augie's mother is a sweet woman but timid.  Grandma Lausch runs the show and she is not a loving presence.

it's not a happy household and Augie leaves home while still a teenager.  We follow him as he tries to make his way during the Great Depression.  Augie will take on many jobs and get involved in all kinds of off the wall schemes.  But whether it's his brother Simon, his friends, employers, romantic partners who try to enlist him in their plans there is something stubborn about Augie.  He will go along for a time but then sabatoge those plans that others have made for him so he can be free to follow his own path.  He's just not sure what that path is.

The novel ends in Paris after the war where Augie is living with his wife.  Its been a long journey to get where he is and on the surface it sounds like Augie is settled but the reader suspects otherwise.  The Adventures of Augie March has been called the Great Novel of the American Dream and Augie is a character always looking for what's over the next horizon and there is something very American about that.

I found The Adventures of Augie Marsh a very difficult book to summarize and my apologies for giving such a bare bones description. There are so many moving parts to this book, adventures, characters, jobs etc that I found it impossible to recount it all.  But what I do want to reiterate again is the quality of the writing. I thought about quoting passages but its the sort of writing that needs to be read in context.  Saul Bellow would later say that The Adventures of Augie Marsh was the novel where he found his voice and it was a voice worth finding.

The Adventures of Augie Marsh fulfills the category - choose a very long classic for my 2019 Back to the Classics Challenge hosted by Karen K at Books and Chocolate