This was the first book that I read by one of this country's most respected writers. While some passages including the ending were poorly conceived and lacked the rest of book's drive, I greatly enjoyed most of it.
Augie, the eternal recruit, is the main character of this novel. For the greater part of the book he has no well defined plan for life and surfs along on waves generated by others. This plot structure allows Bellow to observe and comment upon a wide stratum of human society with often striking results. On top of that he supplies the narrative with an enormous drive, which makes the first half of the book a highly compelling read.
Strangely, both the drive and the so well constructed persona of Augie receive a bad blow by the reappearance of Thea and her eagle. To me the ensuing episode is really at odds with the all what made the preceding part so great. There is virtually no justification why the protagonist so suddenly goes head over heels for a person that had barely interested him before. Moreover, the whole eagle business is bizarre and boring and seemed a train wreck instead of the supersonic ride of the earlier chapters.
After leaving Thea and her disappointing feathered friend south of the border the story again picks up some steam, but loses it's momentum around the aimless end.
While I considered the glass more than half full, it was frustrating to witness the enormous contrast in quality between the best and lesser parts of this book. Based on the best parts, the young author deserved himself a spot among this country's best, while the eagle and the ending would have disappeared in the wastebasket of most of his fellow Nobelians.
In all, an often superior novel with a couple of tough spots. Often a great read, but no Fielding or Dreiser.