Seize the Day

by Saul Bellow

Other authorsCynthia Ozick (Introduction)
Paper Book, 1996





New York : Penguin Books, 1996.


Fading charmer Tommy Wilhelm has reached his day of reckoning and is scared. In his forties, he still retains a boyish impetuousness that has brought him to the brink of chaos: He is separated from his wife and children, at odds with his vain, successful father, failed in his acting career (a Hollywood agent once cast him as the "type that loses the girl"), and in a financial mess. In the course of one climactic day he reviews his past mistakes and spiritual malaise, until a mysterious, philosophizing con man grants him a glorious, illuminating moment of truth and understanding, and offers him one last hope... Book jacket.

Media reviews

It is the intense world of the ordinary, the mean daily detail, the outrage of being alive, the existential sense of one's self as human creature, which is bravely at the center of Mr. Bellow's fiction. Each detail is cruel, plain, irremediable, yet one feels that it is about to burst forth into the radiance of consciousness.

User reviews

LibraryThing member jscape2000
Saul Bellow's short novel is sort of an anti-Ulysses. We follow a day in the life of Tommy Wilhelm, a failed actor, failed husband, failed father and failed son. As in Ulysses, we follow the middle-aged man as he wanders the city (New York this time). He eats, he talks, he considers things to say and things he wishes he'd said. Through all these interactions we see Tommy's flaws: his shortsightedness, his willingness to be led by people he trusts, whether family or con-men, his impulsiveness. Unlike Leopold Bloom (who planned to attend Dingam's funeral), Tommy is swept up by a passing crowd of mourners, but the experience provides a catharsis for the many failures that he has brought upon himself.… (more)
LibraryThing member kellifrobinson
This novella, which took me longer to read than Pride and Prejudice, was not a quick and easy read. The picture depicted on the front cover of a man looking up at the very tall RCA Building (ominous/overbearing) and my memories of the phrase "seize the day" from the movie "The Dead Poet's Society" (suicide) set a tone to this novella - maybe unjustly. I felt the despair and desperation of Tommy Wilhelm from the start. His life was miserable and he could not seem to do anything right. The "answer" was not to be found easily. His strained relationship with his father felt oddly familar. He wanted his approval desperately. Their conversations which revolved around finances were reminescent of conversations I have had with my own parents. I even felt embarassment for Tommy when he was driven to write a note to his father asking him to pay his hotel expenses. I felt like he should have had "his life together" by now. Tommy is a man in his early to mid forties with a wife and two children. As the novella progresses, Tommy appears to be in a downward spiral. It seems to be heading towards a tragic end - I fear Tommy will commit suicide. Tommy's last $700 has been invested in lard at the advice of a new friend. The current price of lard doesn't look good. The final chapters really captured me - Tommy is at the stock exchange watching the prices and is tangled up in the consequences of his own decisions and character flaws, the value of relationships, his own coping skills and ability to express thoughts, emotions, concern. I look forward to reading this novella again.… (more)
LibraryThing member LostFrog
Honestly, this was a rather plain book, but I liked its plain-ness. Unlike Dangling Man, which I found boring and unimportant, this short novel was actually very moving to read. Not that I think most people would like this book. It was just sort of special to me, and I felt I could really relate to Wilhelm, the main character.
LibraryThing member winkinkwriting
One of my favorite books. It's brilliantly written. First time I read it I was 16 and its impact was so huge that when I closed the book, my mouth was open to speak but no words came out. It's a profound book about a day in the life of a man--the day that he faces himself and his problems. Short read, huge impact.
LibraryThing member SanctiSpiritus
I read this book several months, and I revisit it in my thoughts weekly. The character's of this book are not likable. Consequently, that may be why I found the book so compelling, and thought provoking. It's a man of failure, and I believe everyone may find one like trait in the protagonist that shakes them to their core.
LibraryThing member joshberg
I really enjoyed the first half of this novella, but the second, dominated by the annoying Dr. Tamkin, was harder to like. Tamkin is not only profoundly distasteful himself, but he manages to make the already pathetic protagonist Wilhelm even more unappealing. Still, Bellow is able to create a kind of relentless downward spiral that is admirable in its effect.… (more)
LibraryThing member nandadevi
Perhaps someone else has already said it, but there's very little art or artistry in this short story portrait of a man's life masquerading as a train wreck (or perhaps the other way around). In any case Bellow went on to do this many more times, and sometimes with more interesting results. I can forgive Bellow a lot, however, in return for his 'Henderson, The Rain King', and I'd have to say I'm often called upon to do so. Only recommended for those 'filling in the gaps' in their Bellow reading.… (more)
LibraryThing member Crowyhead
I know this is a classic of modern literature, but it's never really grabbed me. I should probably re-read it at some point.
LibraryThing member JEFF471
It's just a bit over 100 pages, but it is dense with some wonderful writing. The first paragraph sets the tone. Tommy Wilhelm is a masterful creation; American at mid 20th century has his day of reckoning.
LibraryThing member isabelx
Tamkin was a charlatan, and furthermore he was desperate. And furthermore, Wilhelm had always known it about him. But he appeared to have worked it out at the back of his mind that Tamkin for thirty or forty years had gotten though many a tight place, that he would get through this crisis too and bring him, Wilhelm, to safety also. And Wilhelm realized that he was on Tamkin's back. It made him feel that he had virtually left the ground and was riding upon the other man. He was in the air. It was for Tamkin to take the steps.

The story of a day in the life of a man who sees himself as having failed at life, on the day his precarious financial situation comes to a head. Having left his wife and children and given up his job, he is living in the same residential hotel as his widowed father, who is entirely unsympathetic to his plight.

Tommy Wilhelm's life has been one long series of bad decisions, starting with leaving university for Hollywood even though the agent who gave him a screen test was discouraging about his chances. He never seizes the day, but passively waits and hopes for someone, whether his father or Dr. Tamkin, to save him from himself.… (more)
LibraryThing member wendyrey
A day in the life of a man who is a failure as a son, husband and employee and more than a bit unpleasant and self centred . Well written, short and managed to keep me reading.
Not bad considering
LibraryThing member zasmine
bellow is wonderfully capable of making you uneasy so steadily and smoothly with his characters.Wilhelm is no exception.Wonderfully written,wonderfully wrapped, its a masterpiece,very fine,tidy writing
LibraryThing member stillatim
This could be Bellow's 'Crying of Lot 49': the book you read because you can't face reading the 600 page masterpiece. As such, it made me think I might want to read Augie March after all, despite my difficulty believing that big, blond men can have existential crises. It's not you, Seize the Day, it's me. I'm also not particularly clear why some people go into raptures over Bellow's prose. It's fine, even solid, but not rapturous.
It's also like a taster for The Magic Mountain filtered through Dostoevsky. Had I thought that to begin with I think I would have enjoyed it a bit more.
… (more)
LibraryThing member edwinbcn
Seize the day is a difficult book to read, and at first hard to grasp. The main character of the novel, Tommy Wilhelm is an anti-hero. Perhaps this is why the novel is so hard to tackle, as it offers the reader very little to sympathize with its main character. In fact, by the end of the novel, which plays out over the course of a day, the reader thoroughly despises T和main character, unable to feel any compassion or pity for him.

Tommy Wilhelm, whose real name is Wilhem Adler, is a failure. A career in the theatre exists only in him own mind, as he keeps telling himself his career to stardom is just waiting to take off. It is obvious, that his father, Dr. Adler, who appears as a towering and solid rock beside whimpish Tommy, believes his son is beyond help, pitying him in his judgement and inability to take his good council. Although they broke up four years earlier, Tommy's wife must be regarded as truly loyal and devoted in her relentless belief that Tommy can still be and should be the breadwinner of their family. She more or less treats him as a spoilt child, who does not want to take responsibility. As his childish name, Tommy, suggests, Wilhelm's faulty judgement is not only in ignoring his well-wishers, but also following wrong advise. Not only his judgement is impaired, he is not even sure to recognize people for who they are, least of all himself.

I had to read Seize the day three times to make any sense of it, and reading it backwards was the most helpful, as obviously, the culmination and the most telling scenes, for instance, the long telephone call with his wife, occur towards the end of the novel.

Seize the day was written in in the 1950s, but makes more sense being set in the late 1930s or early 1940s. Besides his inability to see himself in the right light, he also hangs on to a lifestyle which clearly isn't his. He lives in the same hotel as his father, in an area where many retired and old people live. Wilhelm fails to capture the spirit of the new epoch. As the American Dream started to take shape, the work ethos of Americans changed to exult "hard work" as the key to success for everyone. Tommy spent seven years in Hollywood to be ready for his career in the theatre. He still hold on to hope, speculation and expectation, much to the irritation of the people around him. However, deep inside he does seem to know what is expected of him, as he looks into the distorting and shadowy mirror and wonders: "He had put forth plent of effort, but that was not the same as working hard, was it?" (p.5).
… (more)
LibraryThing member DanielAlgara
A perfect example of "Human heart in conflict with itself" narrative.

Just. Wow.
LibraryThing member AliceAnna
Yet another story where the protagonist is unlikable. It's hard to get up much sympathy for Wilhelm although, at the end, you can't wish that much despair on another human being no matter how weak, ineffectual, unfocused. I can't really blame his father for cutting him off, though had he been kinder in the past, Wilhelm might have developed some strength of character. Interesting story, but not really my thing.… (more)
LibraryThing member oel_3
A sad and great ending
LibraryThing member oataker
Wilhelm is the failing son of Dr Adler, who has given up on him; he has deserted his wife and two kids, and now lost all his money in a very silly way to a trickster Tamkin, who at times sounds as though he is in a hypomanic state. He once screen tested for the movies, he once looked good, but no more. Most of the writing is about his self pitying ramblings. No I didn't like it, but it was at least only 1/4 inch thick.… (more)
LibraryThing member amerynth
Every time I read something by Saul Bellow, I feel like I'm just not intelligent enough to figure out what makes his work brilliant. His stories are interesting enough, but they never stand out as particularly special.

This is true of "Seize the Day," the story of Wilhelm, who is having a really bad day, mainly due to choices of his own making. The story was fine but not particularly memorable.… (more)
LibraryThing member OccassionalRead
The short, declarative, plucky, title of this novella, Seize the Day, is suggestive of the writing style within. There's a punchiness there along with the intelligence, keen observations of time and place, and psychological and emotional truthfulness. It's as if the protagonist, Tommy Wilhelm, is fighting for his life on what is perhaps the worst day of his life. Tommy is a bit soft but his dad, Doctor Adler, is emotionally distant and tough. Fellow resident of the Hotel Gloriana "doctor" Tamkin is shady. New York City itself, with its enormity, complexity, diversity, concrete, ugliness, overwhelming humanity, heat, light, noise, and anonymity, is a character in and of itself, and not a particularly likeable one. Seize the Day takes place in a single day, and traces Tommy's gradual unwinding. But though the actions are limited to a single day, we see that what leads up to the climactic ending, is the overwhelming weight of a lifetime of decisions and choices. Most readers can probably identify with Tommy and sympathize with him. Like Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, with which this has a striking similarity, Tommy is a stand in for us all. An Everyman in a country that can be very unforgiving to those who are not "winners."… (more)
LibraryThing member bookworm12
Meh. I think this was a case of the wrong book at the wrong time. Honestly, just didn’t want to read about another poor me white man who can’t live up to his father’s expectations. A bit like Ulysses, the novel tags Place over the course of one day. It’s also a bit like Death of a Salesman, with one man feeling like he’s failed his family. It’s not bad, it just felt like the story of someone who never really grew up and is complaining about how life isn’t fair.… (more)
LibraryThing member HadriantheBlind
Powerful and intense novella. Bellow's wonderful flowery writing style and thorough exploration of life make this a wonder.



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