By Charles Matthews

Friday, August 12, 2011

13. The Adventures of Augie March, by Saul Bellow (in Novels 1944-1953), pp. 839-860

Chapter XIX

Iggy finds a room for Augie in the place where he lives, and keeps him company while Augie works through the depression after Thea's departure. "Iggy knew I was in a crisis and didn't want me to be alone." He also has a telling response when Augie asks what he can do to prove to Thea that he loves her: "I don't know what. Maybe you couldn't prove it because you don't." Augie rejects that premise at first, but as he debates with himself he comes around to the realization that perhaps he doesn't really know what love is.

That realization isn't enough to stop him from deciding to go confront Thea in Chilpanzingo "and say that though I was a weak man I could little by little alter if she'd bear with me." As he's boarding the bus Moulton comes out to try to stop him. He tells Augie, "Talavera was Thea's friend, old man. He's there with her in Chilpanzingo." Iggy joins in the attempt to stop Augie, telling him that Talavera had been Thea's lover even before she came there with Augie, and that he left for Chilpanzingo just after Thea did. Moulton also insists that Thea and Talavera were having sex when they were in the mountains while Augie was laid up after the accident.

Enraged, Augie threatens to kill Moulton, but Iggy restrains him while Moulton runs away. Augie is nevertheless determined to get on the bus, so Iggy sees him off. On the bus he thinks about the cat that Thea had in Chicago. "And where was this cat now? Left behind somewhere, nowhere special, and that was how permanent Thea's attachments were." When they reach Chilpanzingo, Augie tries to prepare himself for an encounter with Talavera, and realizes that he doesn't have a weapon. He looks in vain for a shop where he can buy a knife, and even goes into a cafe with the thought of stealing one, but there are none in sight.

"Coming out of the café, I saw the station wagon parked in front of New Orleans ironwork king of place from which there were pieces missing." He goes inside and asks for Thea's room number, and send a man up to ask if she will see him. She calls down to him, and lets him into her room, where he looks for signs of Talavera's presence. "Her eyes were not as keen as usual and she looked ill." He asks if Talavera is there with her, and she says it's none of his business, which he takes as a yes. She insists that he isn't there, "so you can set your mind at rest." Augie takes this as confirmation that he had been there.

She tells him that she's going to Acapulco and then flying to Vera Cruz where she's going to Yucatán to see some rare flamingos. But when he asks her to let him come with her she says no.

Chapter XX

Augie returns to Acatla, where he drinks and pals around with a Russian exile who had been kicked out of troupe of Cossack chorus members. But eventually he decides to pull himself together. He sells his riding boots and other equipment that had been bought for him with Smitty's money and buys a ticket for Mexico City. The money Stella promised to leave for him at Wells Fargo isn't there, so  he looks up Manny Padilla's cousin, but winds up lending him money and never sees him again. So finally he gets in touch with Sylvester, who loans him some money and says that one of the Trotskyites has a place Augie can stay if Frazer vouches for him. Frazer does, so Augie moves in with a man named Paslavitch, "a friendly Yugoslavian who lived in a little villa out in Coyoacán."

After Augie has gotten himself together again, Frazer tells him that he might have a job for him. The chief of the Russian police is in Mexico plotting against "the Old Man," Trotsky. One scheme to elude him is for Trotsky to assume a disguise and travel around the country, posing as a tourist. "If the Old Man is going to travel incognito as a visitor to Mexico he's going to need a nephew from the States" -- Augie and a woman would pose as husband and wife and travel with Trotsky. Augie resists the idea: "Please God! I thought, keep me from being sucked into another one of those great currents where I can't be myself." But when Frazer assures him that it would be only for a few weeks until the Russian agent loses the trail, Augie reluctantly agrees.

In the end, though, the plan falls through, to Augie's relief. So he borrows two hundred pesos from Paslavitch and buys a ticket to Chicago.  

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