Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Quote of the Day (Saul Bellow, on a 'Surly' Father in Interwar Chicago)

“Surly Max Zetland gave his family ‘everything,’ he said. Old Zetland had been an immigrant. His start in life was slow. He learned the egg business in the poultry market on Fulton Street. But he rose to be assistant buyer in a large department store downtown: imported cheeses, Czech ham, British biscuits and jams--fancy goods. He was built like a fullback, with a black cleft in the chin and a long mouth. You would wear yourself out to win this mouth from its permanent expression of disapproval. He disapproved because he knew life. His first wife, Elias's mother, died in the flu epidemic of 1918. By his second wife old Zetland had a feebleminded daughter. The second Mrs. Zetland died of cancer of the brain. The third wife, a cousin of the second, was much younger. She came from New York; she had worked on Seventh Avenue; she had a past. Because of this past Max Zetland gave way to jealousy and made nasty scenes, breaking dishes and shouting brutally. ‘Des histoiress,‘ said Zet, then practicing his French. Max Zetland was a muscular man who weighed two hundred pounds, but these were only scenes--not dangerous. As usual, the morning after, he stood at the bathroom mirror and shaved with his painstaking brass Gillette, made neat his reprehending face, flattened his hair like an American executive, with military brushes. Then, Russian style, he drank his tea through a sugar cube, glancing at the Tribune, and went off to his position in the Loop, more or less in Ordnung. A normal day.”—Nobel Prize-winning American fiction writer Saul Bellow (1915-2005), “Zetland:  By a Character Witness,” in Collected Stories (2001)

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