Book: Humbolt's Gift
Author: Saul Bellow
Published: 1975 Viking first edition, 1995 this Penguin Paperback edition
So you're lifelong friends with a crazy poet and his lovely verses that have dried up and his violent temper that's only gotten worse, right, and you don't see him once they lock him away in a mental home, and then he dies, and you try to go figure out what this legacy he left you is all about, but you're interrupted by a wife who's divorcing you for everything you've got, a minor but noisy gangster trying to collect on a gambling check that bounced from the one and only poker game you've ever played with him, and your gorgeous mistress wants to get married for depressingly practical reasons, and none of them know exactly how broke you're going.
What do you do?
If you're Charlie Citrine, you roll with it. Your late-life rich-boy crisis is peppered with metaphysical jibberjabber, but thankfully interrupted by the more straightforwardly lunatical things in life, like how to take care of your lover's kid when she dumps him on you and leaves to elope to an undertaker during your trip to Europe.
If you're Charlie Citrine, you talk and worry an awful lot about money in a way that makes me think maybe "broke" to you who's earned a couple million in your lifetime (through a Broadway play and being a famous history expert, which--could that ever happen past 1965?) means something different than it does to most people. But don't even worry too much about that, because if you're Charlie, that crazy-ass movie script that you knocked out with your poet friend for a joke in Princeton is going to become the smash movie hit the poet always said it would be, only you won't know or believe that until your goon tells you and takes you to see it and pesters you to sue for copyright infringement so he can get a commission.
The philosophy and Chicago-flavored wackiness are mixed so they balance each other out perfectly and reflect the scattered thought process of a man who thinks too much. Charlie is too humble for this to turn into Rich Old Man with Problems, but this also makes it a little hard to believe that he's as famous as everyone else reminds him he is, which is supposed to be part of what makes his problems as abstract as they seem sometimes.
But it's a good, spirited mediation on death and what we really need from each other and our cities and our bank accounts to get settled, and the happy ending is drawn out long enough to dismantle it as a deux ex machina. Still enough of one for me to be able to use the phrase "deux ex machina," though, which I don't count as a bad thing. Bookshelf!
By the way, my bookshelves are getting full, so I'm going to go ahead and open this can of worms: Any cheap AND interesting AND sturdy solutions to that?