There is much to appreciate in the wonderful collection of Saul Bellow’s letters to other writers that the New Yorker has published this week. (You’ll need a subscription to access the correspondence online.)
The letters contain a great deal of deep, seriously-considered material. But I couldn’t help focusing on one relatively short missive to Philip Roth, dated December 26, 1957.
Roth had evidently sent Bellow an early story, “Expect the Vandals.” With a little online digging, I discovered that the story was published in Esquire about a year later, in December 1958. A quick recheck of Roth’s literary biography confirms that at the time, he had yet to publish a book (his first, Goodbye, Columbus, was released in 1959).
Which makes Bellow’s closing comments to a virtual stranger (“Dear Philip Roth”) all the more meaningful:
“Look, try Henry Volkening at 522 Fifth Ave. My agent. A very good one, too. Best of luck. And forgive my having the mss. so long. I should have read it at once. But I don’t live right.”
Anyone know if Roth followed the recommendation?