Saul Bellow: More Die of Heartbreak (512 words)

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More Die of Heartbreak (1987) recaptures much of the old Bellow energy and comedy, but falls short of the intellectual scope of Herzog or Humboldt's Gift. It illuminates in great detail the tragicomic manner in which modern heterosexual relationships have failed. It is a Prufrockian lament about failed men and absent mermaids which is full of misogynous love-lore, comic characters, botched loves, fatal forays into the danger zones of sex and romance, farcical retreats, and serio-crackpot sexual philosophizing. It is the misogynous self-ironic report of two men exchanging stories of battle wounds received from women they believe to have failed their masculine romantic expectations. The center of consciousness in the novel, Kenneth Trachtenberg, is a self-appointed guardian for his Uncle Benn Crader, an eccentric plant morphologist, whom he perceives to be one of the rare, visionary men of the age. As Uncle Benn's erotic needs assert themselves and he becomes embroiled in modern marriage, family scheming, fraud, legal battles, and betrayal, nephew Kenneth panics and attempts to rescue him.

Bellow's schedule of gender complaints in this novel is lengthy: the triple failure of science, religion, and belles lettres to illuminate love, modern distortions in human relations, the meaning of sadomasochism, the interconnection between love and death, the failure of modern marriage, the ironies of biological sexuality, and the contemporary failure of poetry in human relations. Worse still is the comic incompatibility of heterosexual love with the male quest for higher consciousness. The mode of the novel is that of the Gogolian farce of “The Bridegroom”, with its classic misogynous tale of the flight of the bridegroom from entrapment in marriage.

The upshot of the marital failures of Kenneth and Benn is that both protagonists turn viciously on women for their collective failure to accept, arouse, anticipate, love, minister, or compensate them perfectly enough. On the plane trip to Tokyo, the occasion of Benn's second bridegroom flight, Kenneth eagerly advances his project to deconstruct “Woman” for his uncle. He explains that Benn's superior spiritual nature attracts educated women who are affected by these emanations, and who otherwise live in metaphysical darkness. It is a characterization of women as parasitic, metaphysically deficient, and in need of “fixing”. It is also a deliberate attempt to reconstruct the celibate male enterprise by the exclusion of the female erotic. Benn is last seen hightailing it for the Arctic wastes and his beloved lichens, while Kenneth settles for a woman who, perceiving his preference for flawless, classical female beauty, has had her lumpy face sanded by a dermatologist.

The final impression left by this novel is its portrayal of men as unfortunate sexual victims of a silly mortality full of contaminating Sex. Women appear metaphysically devoid of value, cruelly funny jokes played on men who, without such handicaps, would appear in their true colors as noble, chivalric, and spiritually enlightened. Its preferred solutions are celibacy and bachelorhood, preserved if necessary by deception, abandonment, or flight. However, it is also a tale of two quite quirky unreliable narrators whom Bellow clearly loves precisely because of their comically portrayed emotional inadequacies.

Cronin, Gloria. "More Die of Heartbreak". The Literary Encyclopedia. First published 23 October 2003
[, accessed 22 February 2017.]

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  1. Jewish American Writing

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