Saul Bellow’s story “A Silver Dish” illustrates the skill of one of the greatest American authors of the twentieth century. The story spans a period from the middle of the Great Depression to the mid-1980s, showing the changes that time renders in both society and in one man’s life. The main character, Woody Selbst, is one of Bellow’s finest creations. A lonesome, successful businessman, Woody reminisces about the circumstances under which his father, a con man and thief, caused him to lose his scholarship to a seminary school, an act that redirected his entire life.
Bellow, the 1976 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, fills this long tale with acutely observed details and characters who are so unusual that they feel like they could only come from real life. Woven throughout the story are meditations about religion, death, and responsibility that one expects in Bellow’s fiction. Long for a short story, “A Silver Dish” holds as much insight, humor, and wisdom as one may hope to find in a novel.
This story was first published in the New Yorker in 1978 and was subsequently published in Bellow’s 1984 collection Him with His Foot in His Mouth, which as of 2006 is in print.