|“||His sentences seem to weigh more than anyone else's. He is like a force of nature... He breaks all the rules [...] [T]he people in Bellow's fiction are real people, yet the intensity of the gaze that he bathes them in, somehow through the particular, opens up into the universal.||”|
For Linda Grant, "what Bellow had to tell us in his fiction was that it was worth it, being alive."
|“||His vigour, vitality, humour and passion were always matched by the insistence on thought, not the predigested cliches of the mass media or of those on the left which had begun to disgust him by the Sixties... It's easy to be a 'writer of conscience' - anyone can do it if they want to; just choose your cause. Bellow was a writer about conscience and consciousness, forever conflicted by the competing demands of the great cities, the individual's urge to survival against all odds and his equal need for love and some kind of penetrating understanding of what there was of significance beyond all the racket and racketeering.||”|
On the other hand, Bellow's detractors considered his work conventional and old-fashioned, as if the author was trying to revive the 19th century European novel. In a private letter, Vladimir Nabokov once referred to Bellow as a "miserable mediocrity." Journalist and authorRon Rosenbaum described Bellow's Ravelstein (2000) as the only book that rose above Bellow's failings as an author. Rosenbaum wrote,
|“||My problem with the pre-Ravelstein Bellow is that he all too often strains too hard to yoke together two somewhat contradictory aspects of his being and style. There's the street-wise Windy City wiseguy and then-as if to show off that the wiseguy has Wisdom-there are the undigested chunks of arcane, not entirely impressive, philosophic thought and speculation. Just to make sure you know his novels have intellectual heft. That the world and the flesh in his prose are both figured and transfigured.||”|
|“||But what, then, of the many defects -- the longueurs and digressions, the lectures on anthroposophy and religion, the arcane reading lists? What of the characters who don't change or grow but simply bristle onto the page, even the colorful lowlifes pontificating like fevered students in the seminars Bellow taught at the University of Chicago? And what of the punitively caricatured ex-wives drawn from the teeming annals of the novelists's own marital discord?||”|
But, Tanenhaus went on to answer his question:
|“||Shortcomings, to be sure. But so what? Nature doesn't owe us perfection. Novelists don't either. Who among us would even recognize perfection if we saw it? In any event, applying critical methods, of whatever sort, seemed futile in the case of an author who, as Randall Jarrell once wrote of Walt Whitman, is a world, a waste with, here and there, systems blazing at random out of the darkness -- those systems as beautifully and astonishingly organized as the rings and satellites of Saturn.||”|
V. S. Pritchett praised Bellow, finding his shorter works to be his best. Pritchett called Bellow's novella Seize the Day a "small gray masterpiece."
Bellow's account of his 1975 trip to Israel, To Jerusalem and Back: A Personal Account, was criticized by Noam Chomsky in his 1983 bookFateful Triangle: the United States, Israel & the Palestinians. Bellow, Chomsky wrote, "sees an Israel where ‘almost everyone is reasonable and tolerant, and rancor against the Arabs is rare,’ where the people ‘think so hard, and so much’ as they ‘farm a barren land, industrialize it, build cities, make a society, do research, philosophize, write books, sustain a great moral tradition, and finally create an army of tough fighters.’ He has also been criticized for having praised Joan Peters's controversial book, From Time Immemorial, which challenged the conventional history of the Palestinian people.