Him With His Foot in His Mouth and Other Stories
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'We were friends, somehow. But in the end, somehow, he intended to be a mortal enemy. All the while that he was making the gestures of a close and precious friend he was fattening my soul in a coop till it was ready for killing.' Vital, exuberant, streetwise and philosophizing, Nobel Prize winner Saul Bellow is one of the undisputed masters of American prose. In this inspired novella an ageing man writes an apology for his rudeness to a librarian thirty-five years earlier, unleashing a dazzling, rancorous comic riff on growing old, regret, rudeness, smoking and 'the world's grandeur'.
stirred by emotions that had waited a lifetime for expression; they must have worked their way into my heart at a very early age, and now came out in full strength to drag me down. ‘What have you got to do with wrecking automobiles?’ said Gerda. ‘And grease, and metal, and all that noise?’ I said, ‘What has the IRS ever done for music that it should collect half my royalties?’ My wife was an educated woman, Miss Rose, and she began to reread certain books and to tell me about them, especially
off. As we passed, they set their paws on the wire meshes and bared their teeth. I didn’t enjoy visiting the pens. My own teeth were on edge. Philip himself wasn’t comfortable with the animals, by any means. He owned them, they were assets, but he wasn’t the master. Tracy, appearing among the dogs, gave me a silent nod. The Negro employees who brought meat were tolerated. ‘But Tracy,’ Philip said, ‘she’s their goddess.’ I must have been afraid, because nothing satirical or caustic came to mind.
been fit for. Nobody else went past high school … Kramm was okay, I guess.’ Yes, I said, Chink got Kramm to pay my college tuition. Kramm had been a doughboy, did Philip remember that? Kramm was squat but powerful, full-faced, smooth-skinned like a Samoan, and wore his black hair combed flat to his head in the Valentino or George Raft style. He supported us all, paid the rent. Our dad, during the Depression, was peddling carpets to farm women in northern Michigan. He couldn’t earn the rent. From
you’d have to agree not only that I’d been had but that I was singularly foolish, a burlesque figure. I could have modeled Simple Simon for the nursery-rhyme wallpaper of the little girl’s room in Texas. As I was brutally offensive to you without provocation, these disclosures, the record of my present state, may gratify you. Almost any elderly person, chosen at random, can provide such gratification to those he has offended. One has only to see the list of true facts, the painful inventory. Let
were descended from north of Ireland Protestants, actually, and his mother’s family name was Ballard. He signs himself Edward Ballard Walish. He pretended not to mind this. A taste of persecution made him friendly to Jews, or so he said. Uncritically delighted with his friendship, I chose to believe him. It turns out that after many years of concealed teetering, Walish concluded that I was a fool. It was when the public began to take me seriously that he lost patience with me and his affection