- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 26, 2006

OK, so I was reading the introduction to James Atlas’ biography of the late novelist Saul Bellow, and I come across this passage, about precisely where Bellow authorized the use of his letters and manuscripts:

“We agreed to meet in the town a few miles from his Vermont house. Pancho’s Wreck, the restaurant Bellow chose for our rendezvous, wasn’t open yet, so we walked over to the local hotel and found a table by the window in the empty dining room. Bellow tossed the envelope on the table and said, ‘I don’t have a problem with any of this.’”

So far, so good.

Then, later, I felt like re-reading Christopher Hitchens’ review of Atlas’ biography to remind myself why he hated it so much. I didn’t find the review (it appeared in National Review, by the way), but I did find this article by Altas, which appeared in New York magazine shortly after Bellow’s death last year. It opens thus:

“‘I have no problem with any of this,’” said Saul Bellow, tossing a sheaf of his old letters across the scarred back booth in Poncho’s Wreck, a seedy bar just a few miles up the road from his summer house in Vermont.”

Notice that? Now we’re in Pancho’s Wreck, when before we were in the local hotel across the street.

It might seem like a minor detail in the grand scheme of things, but the context — Bellow’s purported blessing — is more important.

Makes me wonder how many other discrepant memories Atlas includes in the biography and rather confirms, at least preliminarily, Martin Amis’ dismissal of the book as, among other failings, “inaccurate.”

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