Seize The Day is a quick read - just 135 pages - but really rather satisfying. Wilhelm is a man in mid life crisis. He has left his sales job, left his wife and children, and is in search of something more satisfying. It appears at first that he is after money, but perhaps he is really after his father's approval. In either case, he appears to have made unwise choices.
Wilhelm appears to be unsettled by others' success - his father is a doctor, he wanted to be a Hollywood star but lacked the talent, and his latest venture sees himself entering into a stick exchange pact with a Dr Tamkin, about whom very little seems to be known. But there is a promise of money for nothing - just sell at a higher price than you bought. But they bought lard, and lard is falling and falling...
This really is an engaging portrait of hope and greed - and a fair dose of entitlement - that makes up the American dream. We don't know exactly why Wilhelm is in the situation he is, just that he is utterly overwhelmed by it and powerless to help himself within it.
This is a tight little novel, with plenty of suspense and a real roller coaster of pent up emotion. Like its era - the 1950s - it is spare and economical, but with the few words made to carry great weight. Saul Bellow is able to conjure up an atmosphere in just a pithy phrase or a bon mot. The father-son relationship plays beautifully, with both living as separate guests in the same hotel. The ambiguity of Tamkin is exquisite - where Wilhelm is just not sure how far committed Tamkin really is; whether Tamkin is trying to make profit as Wilhelm carries the risk. And ultimately this is an unknowable. Whatever the outcome had been, it would have been impossible to tell whether Tamkin was on the level. In a sense, that's the nature of business: you only ever know your own situation for a fact, the rest must always be speculation.
A pleasant surprise...