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by Saul Bellow (Penguin: New York, 2000)
In this curious roman á clef, Bellow fulfills his promise to real-life friend Allan Bloom (brilliant political philosopher who died of AIDS) to write Bloom's memoir "warts and all"--transforming Bloom into Abe Ravelstein and himself into Chick. It's a dark comedy and a deliciously wicked joke on Bloom in the end though--one that Bloom would surely enjoy most of all. Bellow lavishly describes him and puts him into motion...but in fact only so he can flagrantly use him to tell his own personal story, to reveal his own self "warts and all." In the last quarter of the book--when Ravelstein is dead and buried--Chick finally comes out of the closet (as the main character, that is) and focuses the reader exclusively on himself. That's when the chicken soup keeps appearing. Wife Rosamund makes it steadily in St. Martin when she realizes Chick is ill...though he "couldn't bear to swallow a spoonful." Dr. Alba in his Boston hospital brings "chicken soup from her own kitchen" to celebrate him getting out of intensive care. And he worries during therapy because "it was impossible for me to eat my soup or to sign my name." I best like the following passage, though, where Rosamund makes do with tropical ingredients during their vacation from hell.
Rosamund, now seeing that I really was sick--though I denied it--walked miles through the smoke and fire of curbside grills looking for a Thanksgiving turkey. None was to be found. The skinny local hens seemed to be growing hair, not feathers. At the bottom of a freezer in the market, she found packages of stony drumsticks and wings. She said they looked much worse when they were thawed. On this island of yams and coconuts there were no cooking greens. Nevertheless she managed after hours of effort to produce a chicken soup. Out of gratitude I tried to make a joke of my failure to get it down--remembering an immigrant mother of my childhood who cried out, "My Joey can't eat an ice-cream cone. He turns his head away from it. If he won't lick an ice cream, he's got to be dying!"
[NB: Many thanks to John Fox for telling me about the citation and encouraging me to read the book.]