While perusing The Adventures of Augie March, I found myself fondly recalling The Studs Lonigan Trilogy, however, apart from its Chicago setting, Augie and Studs were two very different characters and these were two very different novels.
We meet the young Augie as a young boy living in Chicago with his visually challenged mother, overbearing grandmother, mentally challenged brother and older and domineering brother. The journey begins in Chicago and its outskirts, heads south to Mexico, returns to Chicago and ends in Paris. It is never quite clear where Augie is headed or why, but this reader went along quite willngly and enjoyed the journey.
Many of Bellow’s characters have physical limits; Augie’s legally blind mother, his mentally challenged brother, Georgie and his wheelchair bound mentor, Einhorn. While we, like Augie, think the “message” lies with them, it is not. It is not until the conclusion, lacking any neat little wrap ups, that we, along with Augie, finally come to understand that each man may or may not have a purpose and if they do, it is very unlikely they will ever find another who shares that purpose with the same passion as they do.
The protagonist, Augie March, is quite typical in that he has struggles and triumphs, finds love and loses it and deals with life’s unpredictable ebbs and flows. His seeming indifference is frustrating to his family, friends and this reader, but was also evidently the time most painful to him as he struggled to understand his place. A character easy for all to relate to.
The domineering Grandma Lausch believed her purpose was to guide and find the purpose for the entire March family. Like most well-intentioned people, her controlling approach was less than well-received. The family goes along with her plans, but not because they believe it is best for them, but out of fear. This proud woman lives out her days alone shocked that those she had the best of intentions for have abandoned her. A sad woman no one ever want to become.
The plucky Thea Fenchel falls for Augie and is determined to win his heart which she finally does and convinces him to travel with her to Mexico with an eagle they will train to capture giant lizards (hey, who could turn down such an offer?). She has certainly found her life’s purpose as an outdoor adventurer and is astonished when Augie, after a serious fall from a horse, belittles her undertakings. Quite a powerful woman one would certainly enjoy hearing stories from rather than joining as a cohort.
Quite the cast of characters here; zany cousins, careless crooks, lunatic sailors, eccentric writers, and so on. Bellow introduces many and covers the realm from infidelity to abortion, petty and major crime, love and death and does so with his own finely honed style.
With two of Mr. Bellow’s works under my belt, I’d feel a tad more comfortable discussing his writing flair and still feel he’d be a gracious and amusing fellow. He certainly is skilled in the art of capturing man’s inner doubt and turmoils. I’m sure I’d garner much from this subtle genius.
My rating for The Adventures of Augie March is a 9 out of 10.
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