978-0-06-014849-2 / 9780060148492

The Dean's December


Publisher:Harper and Row



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About the book:

The downside of being pugnacious and feisty is that people stop taking you seriously next time you jump into a scrap. This seems to be what happened to this undeservedly neglected book by a great and feisty American writer. Known for bringing artistic beauty, dimensionality, and a golden aura of wisdom to his tough Chicago turf, Bellow here took the gloves off. His University of Chicago Dean hero struggles with injustice and cynicism at its rawest, when he becomes engaged with the cavalier Chicago criminal justice system and its disgustingly casual response to the murder of a student. Counterpoint is meaningfully provided by the death of an old relative behind the iron curtain, whom the Dean visits. As in Lear, the subplot is no relief at all, merely stokes the flames of the main plot and brings Bellow's fury with the modern world to a white heat. Thus we are denied mere sociological or political excuses for our modern mayhem; the focus is what has gone wrong with our hearts the world over. Never has Bellow been more engaged or convincing. Indeed Bellow sacrifices something of his usual high gloss artistic finish to this product in the process, perhaps intentionally and savagely. Yeah, he wants to stick it in your face and it shows. This is doubtless what offends some readers. Nevertheless it is a worthy response to having just received the Nobel Prize. Most writers, American and otherwise, react by self-inflating to sanctimoniously gracious gas bags. Saul knew who he was, however, and never let anyone fool him on that score. As one who once dabbled in the halls of big Chicago justice and who knows the U of C campus well, I cannot recommend the real life portraiture and painting that shines through this text highly enough. It is entirely genuine, real, perfect, matchlessly true. I frankly know of no better Chicago novel.

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