things i took seriously and consented to in my
private soul as i sat reading.
“What do you want me to agree with you
for? if you believe what you’re saying, it shouldn’t
make any difference whether i agree or not.”
“oh hell!” he said, sitting forward and
looking into me with widened eyes. “don’t flat
ter yourself, kid. if you really understood you’d
agree. That would be nice, but i can certainly get
along without if i have to. and besides, though
this may not flatter either of us, we’re the same
and want the same. so you understand.”
“Well, maybe it’s as you say. but what
makes you think this girl and her family are
going to want you?”
“What are my assets? Well, first of all we’re
all handsome men in our family. but besides,
i’m not marrying a rich girl in order to live on
her dough and have a good time. They’ll get full
value out of me, those people. They’ll see that
i won’t lie down and take it easy. i can’t. i have
to make money. i’m not one of those guys that
give up what they want as soon as they realize
they want it. i want money, and i mean want—
and i can handle it. Those are my assets. so i
couldn’t be more on the level with them.”
You couldn’t blame me for listening to
this with some amount of skepticism. but then
things like this are done by people with the
specific ambition to do them. i didn’t like the
way he talked; for instance, the boast that we
were handsome men—it made us sound like
studs. However, i couldn’t hope that he’d have
another failure; he wasn’t that rich in heart that
he could make good use of it.
“let’s see the girl’s picture.”
He had it in his pants pocket. she seemed
young enough, a big girl, with a pretty good
face. i thought she was rather handsome,
though not of an open or easy nature.
“she’s attractive, i told you. a little too
Her name was Charlotte Magnus.
“Magnus? Wasn’t it a Magnus truck that
delivered coal to the einhorns?”
“That’s her uncle, in the coal business. Four
or five big yards. and her father owns property
by the acre. Hotels. also a few fiveanddime
stores. it’ll be the coal business for me. That’s
where i think the most dough is. i’ll ask for a
yard as a wedding present.”
“You have it all pretty well figured out.”
“sure. i have something figured out for
“What, am i supposed to get married also?”
“in time, yes, we’ll fix you up. Meanwhile
you have to help me out. i have to have some
family. i’ve been told they’re familyminded
people. They wouldn’t understand or like it, the
way we are, and we have to make it look better.
There’ll be dinners and such things, and prob
ably a big engagement party. We need clothes.
do you have any?
“They’re in hock.”
“get them out.”
“and what am i going to use for money?”
“don’t you have any at all? i thought you
were in some kind of book business here.”
“Mama gets all the money i have to spare.”
He said tightly, “all right, don’t be wise. i’ll
take care of all that soon. i’ll raise the dough.”
i wondered where his credit might still be
good. perhaps his buyer friend lent him some
money. anyway, i got a postal order from simon
a few days later, and when i redeemed the clothes,
he came to borrow one of my evanston suits.
soon he said that he had met Charlotte Magnus.
He believed she was already in love with him.
Saul Bellow, from The adventures of augie March.
Bellow was awarded a National Book Award for this
novel in 1954, winning again for Herzog in 1965
and for Mr. sammler’s planet in 1971. In a letter
to Martin Amis in 1996, he observed that “losing a
parent is something like driving through a plate-glass window. You didn’t know it was there until it
shattered, and then for years to come you’re picking up
the pieces—down to the last glassy splinter.” Bellow
died at the age of eighty-nine in 2005.