Saul Bellow, who passed away ten years ago, was an outstanding man of letters on the US scene for decades, from the success of HERZOG in 1964 to RAVELSTEIN in 2000.
Zachary Leader is working on a biography of Bellow, and his first volume came out this spring.
A review of this book in the May issue of Harper's essentially accuses Leader of excessive absorption in minutiae.
"Leader devotes exhaustive analysis to determining whether the apartment building in which Bellows grew up -- a building that no longer exists -- stood at 3245, 3246, 3340, or 3342 Le Moyne Street." For a brief period, Bellow was the roommate of Ralph Ellison in an apartment in upstate New York. At that time, Ellison apparently was devoted to an elaborate procedure for brewing coffee. Leader tells us that he personally tested this procedure and deemed it not worth while.
But Leader's work does contain some valuable material. The reviewer, Ruth Franklin, praises it especially for conveying a sense of Bellow's unshakeable confidence in his talent, "even at the earliest stages of his career."
At any rate, Franklin ends up forgiving Leader his inadequacies, saying that it is impossible "to capture such a soul within a book."