Books: Scribbler on the Roof

HUMBOLDT'S GIFT by SAUL BELLOW 487 pages. Viking. $10.

At a time when many writers are turning to impressionistic journalism and innovative fantasy, 60-year-old Saul Bellow still confronts America's baffling ocean of desires and sorrows with old-fashioned characters and a Tolstoyan appetite for presenting big ideas as if they were messages from a philosophical sponsor. In short, Bellow is self-consciously a Serious Writer, especially during those frequent moments when he is being genuinely humorous.

As in Bellow's The Adventures of Augie March, Henderson the Rain King and Herzog, there is also a vigorous mix...

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