The Forgotten Writing of Bette Howland

Best known, perhaps, for her short-lived romance with Saul Bellow—who remained her friend and confidant for the remainder of his life—Bette Howland, who died in 2017 and is little remembered today, had a promising career as a writer of criticism and fiction. The recently published Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage collects a novella of the same name, some of her short stories, and a previously unpublished work. Calling Howland a “brilliant 20th-century Jewish American woman writer,” Rachel Shteir describes her career and oeuvre:

On paper, Howland seems deserving of . . . new attention. She wrote one memoir, two short-story collections, and criticism, mostly for Commentary magazine. Her books received good reviews and she was awarded both Guggenheim and MacArthur fellowships. After the MacArthur, she mostly stopped writing fiction. . .

I am reluctant to paint Howland as a victim of her onetime lover—or the “patriarchy.” After the early passion waned, Bellow seems to have been devoted to his friend. . . . It also seems wrong to blame Bellow for the fact that after the breakup, while his exile from Chicago included Bellagio, hers included a remote island in Maine and a farm in Pennsylvania. He was ravished by the world; she lived like a monk. . . .

[Likewise], I don’t see any glimmer of [ravishment] in Howland’s work, which, as her son writes, is mostly about “the indescribable metaphysical bleakness of life in Chicago.” The best of Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage describes that city. My favorite story, “Blue in Chicago,” remains among the most accurate descriptions of Hyde Park’s siege mentality that I have read. “You always want to know how close these things come to you,” the narrator begins, describing the shooting of a graduate student. Howland’s cold evocation of that South Side neighborhood only serves to illuminate more brilliantly the sadness she feels when trapped with her sulky Jewish relatives at a wedding. She has nowhere to go.

Read more at Tablet

More about: American Jewish literature, Chicago, Jewish literature, Saul Bellow


An American Withdrawal from Iraq Would Hand Another Victory to Iran

Since October 7, the powerful network of Iran-backed militias in Iraq have carried out 120 attacks on U.S. forces stationed in the country. In the previous year, there were dozens of such attacks. The recent escalation has led some in the U.S. to press for the withdrawal of these forces, whose stated purpose in the country is to stamp out the remnants of Islamic State and to prevent the group’s resurgence. William Roberts explains why doing so would be a mistake:

American withdrawal from Iraq would cement Iran’s influence and jeopardize our substantial investment into the stabilization of Iraq and the wider region, threatening U.S. national security. Critics of the U.S. military presence argue that [it] risks a regional escalation in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Iran. However, in the long term, the U.S. military has provided critical assistance to Iraq’s security forces while preventing the escalation of other regional conflicts, such as clashes between Turkey and Kurdish groups in northern Iraq and Syria.

Ultimately, the only path forward to preserve a democratic, pluralistic, and sovereign Iraq is through engagement with the international community, especially the United States. Resisting Iran’s takeover will require the U.S. to draw international attention to the democratic backsliding in the country and to be present and engage continuously with Iraqi civil society in military and non-military matters. Surrendering Iraq to Iran’s agents would not only squander our substantial investment in Iraq’s stability; it would greatly increase Iran’s capability to threaten American interests in the Levant through its influence in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

Read more at Providence

More about: Iran, Iraq, U.S. Foreign policy