A Father-To-Be by Saul Bellow, 1955
The magic trick:
Reflecting perfectly the uneven, untrustworthy, moody thought patterns of a stressed-out man
Of course we had to get some of Saul Bellow’s Chicago in the mix during Illinois Week on the website.
In this one, we drift brilliantly into our protagonist’s mind as he makes his commute home to his pregnant fiancée. It really is an astounding feat of stream-of-conscious style as we get his thoughts as they drift all over the place.
As I read along, it struck me that this was incredibly accurate, incredibly true to life. But then I was floored anew by the ending. His stream-of-conscious thoughts start to turn toward anger as he thinks about his would-be child, his fiancée, his would-be inlaws. But when he gets home, does that anger express itself? Does he scream and yell and take action?
The gentleness of the moment immediately outweighs the emotions of the imagination, and all is well.
Amazing piece of fiction, really.
And that’s quite a trick on Bellow’s part.
Rogin’s illuminated mind asked of itself while the human tides of the subway swayed back and forth, and cars linked and transparent like fish bladders raced under the streets: How come he thought nobody would know what everybody couldn’t help knowing? And, as a chemist, he asked himself what kind of compound this new Danish drug might be, and started thinking about various inventions of his own, synthetic albumen, a cigarette that lit itself, a cheaper motor fuel. Ye gods, but he needed money! As never before. What was to be done? His mother was growing more and more difficult. On Friday night, she had neglected to cut up his meat for him, and he was hurt. She had sat at the table motionless, with her long-suffering face, severe, and let him cut his own meat, a thing she almost never did. She had always spoiled him and made his brother envy him. But what she expected now! Oh, Lord, how he had to pay, and it had never even occurred to him formerly that these things might have a price.
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