Seize the Day, Saul Bellow, The Viking Press, 1956, 115 pp
This was Bellow's next work of fiction after The Adventures of Augie March (1953). It is that problematic piece of fiction called the "novella," somewhere between a short story and a novel. In fact, it was published in a volume containing an additional three short stories and a one-act play. Even over fifty years ago, publishers worried that the public would not pay the price of a whole book for such a short work. Of course, since Bellow packs so much in just a sentence, this is not a valid concern.
In Seize the Day, Tommy Wilhelm, so unsure of who he is that he changed his name as a young man, is now facing up to being a failure in early middle-age. He has tried to make it as an actor in Hollywood, he has lost his job as a salesman, left his wife and landed in a residence hotel filled with retired old men, including his father.
Tommy is a typical Bellow character: basically despicable but somehow endearing. We follow him through a tortured day. He has a sadly contentious breakfast with his father, takes a beating from the wife via phone and hangs out with the mysterious Dr Adler, who poses as a successful psychologist but may just be a hustler.
You see, Tommy has not been a good 1950s American male. He has been impulsive, emotional and most damning of all, he has not made much money. In fact, he is out of money and has allowed Dr Adler to convince him to invest his last $700 in the commodities market.
I enjoyed, if that is the right word, Bellow's story because it was so apt in today's times, with our extreme emphasis on material success. Due to the tanked economy, we may be in for a large shift of importance and have to suffer Tommy Wilhelm's agony as an entire culture. Tommy is looking for his humanity in the falling price of lard. So poignant, yet so hilarious.
(Seize the Day is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)