Saturday, November 27, 2010


From William Deresiewicz's review in the Nation of Saul Bellow's
letters, which have just been published by Viking:

Not for him the Flaubertian squeezing out of mots justes, fainting
fits and half a page a day. On rare occasions the prose simply came.
"I wrote 'Mosby's Memoirs' on six successive mornings in the Mexican
town of Oaxaca without the aid of tequila," he says. "I felt as they
went into the story that I was striking [the words] with a mallet. I
seldom question what I have written in such a state." But usually, and
always with the novels, he wrote and rewrote entire drafts. "I have
finished my story," he says at one point, referring probably to "What
Kind of Day Did You Have?," "and in June I can go to work on it in
earnest." "Be prodigal," he told William Kennedy. "Think of all those
sperm: Only one is needed to create life."

Prodigal he was. The 340 pages of Henderson were boiled down from
4,000 pages of notebooks and manuscripts.


And that is why he insisted, to Alfred Kazin, that when it comes to
judging a work of literature, "The first criterion is enjoyment, and
so are the second and third criteria."

The review lives here: