I read about Bette Howland and her memoir/novel Blue in Chicago in the NY Times obituaries last month. She was a a protege (and perhaps lover) of Saul Bellow and had a troubled life.
I got her book out of the library, and Blue in Chicago is an extraordinary work, giving a rich portrait of Chicago and the complexities of Jewish family life. Here is an excerpt:
Words of Yiddish passed over the table like the Angel of Death. It was the language of bad news; bodily functions; the parts of dead chickens.
And this, about her grandmother’s funeral:
“It seemed strange to me that my grandmother was at one and the same time carrion–garbage–that had to be got rid of, shoveled quickly out of sight; and something precious and tender, of infinite value, being laid away for safekeeping–sunk in a vault. These things seemed opposed, bu the weren’t; they couldn’t be; because both were true. It was necessary to hold them both in your mind at once. That’s all we were trying to do, standing over the open grave… Continue reading