Ask me about the work of Philip Roth

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But I was actually disappointed -- both in the book and in his lecture -- about the collaborators as just bad guys. I mean, this has a little to do with the characters in that book not being hugely interesting: those "collaborators" are an opportunity to take a pretty complex look at character, and all the very human reasons people get into those positions, so it seems a bit lazy to just say "they're bad." (Especially since that's not the argument that needs to be made; of course readers are going to understand they're "bad"; the impulses behind it are probably more interesting, and the only ones he allows are "vanity" and "greed.")

nabisco (nabisco), Wednesday, 24 January 2007 01:59 (7 years ago) Permalink

can you talk a bit about everyman?

pinkmoose (jacklove), Wednesday, 24 January 2007 04:07 (7 years ago) Permalink

the zuckerman about him being sick is pretty awful -- the others are teh awesome though.

also TPAA seemed to have plenty of interesting characters, but only gently interesting. some of the family scenes were pretty exquisitely rendered. as to the collaborators, i mean, they weren't really in any way the center of the book -- what i liked most about the whole way it worked through was the way the "plot" was so much and so little at once, just a step away from what it was and so REALLY just a step away from what it was... the commonplacing of the counterfactual -- seemed like a sideswipe at radical zionist types in the service of rendering the memoiresqe portion more true and vivid -- how it *felt* to be assimilating.

Sterling Clover (s_clover), Wednesday, 24 January 2007 04:11 (7 years ago) Permalink

ok so here's the question: does the anatomy lesson have any redeeming qualities at all, and what the hell are they?

Sterling Clover (s_clover), Wednesday, 24 January 2007 04:13 (7 years ago) Permalink

also how much do you think american pastoral really should be read as an answer book to updike?

Sterling Clover (s_clover), Wednesday, 24 January 2007 04:14 (7 years ago) Permalink

i don't think the characters in TPAA are supposed to be "interesting" the way the ones in other roth novels are - it's much more mundane and prosaic almost until the very end, which makes the last 15 pages of nonstop melodrama easier to take.

actually, i think one of the things i liked most about the book was its almost worshipful attitude toward FDR - pretty uncool these days, and strangely touching in a hard-to-define way.

J.D. (Justyn Dillingham), Wednesday, 24 January 2007 09:01 (7 years ago) Permalink

Anthony: Everyman is a short, spare, death-obsessed book. It's in some way 'inspired' by the medieval morality play of the same name, but only insofar as both books are about 'how to die'. I found it a little disappointing; I thought keeping the protagonist nameless was a mistake, and part of an overall thinness of character. He didn't get my belief as easily as he should have. That said, Roth at this point in his career is such a good writer, that it's still a great book. He's just head and shoulders above most everyone else that disappointing for him is still an achievement.

g00blar (gooblar), Wednesday, 24 January 2007 10:37 (7 years ago) Permalink

Sterling, I think The Anatomy Lesson has a LOT of redeeming qualities--ok, so it's probably the worst of the Zuckerman books (actually, no, I'll take it easily over I Married a Communist), but that's not saying much!

I love particularly the last 50-75 pages of that book, from the ridiculous argument with Milton Appel, to the impersonation of the pornographer on the plane, to the GREBT graveyard scene, to the end when he's wandering around the hospital (as a patient), still wanting to be a doctor.

What's great is that the nature of Zuckerman's problem throughout is pretty vague. He's got horrible, chronic pain--from what? He doesn't know. He can't write. Why? He doesn't know. There are lots of reasons given by other characters, but essentially the causes are left unknown. But that doesn't make the pain, or the inability to write, any less real. It makes it MORE maddening in the fact that you don't even know why it's happening. That struck me as a very clever central premise for a book.

g00blar (gooblar), Wednesday, 24 January 2007 10:46 (7 years ago) Permalink

I thought the characters in The Plot Against America and especially American Pastoral were quite interesting, eastcoast jewish lower middle class members of parents generation. in fact they all come from the exact same milleu as my father in law, so one of many things I got from these books was insight into my parents time and experience. Maybe it's an age thing.

Still my favorite Roth is probably Goodbye Columbus and the vintage short story "Defender of the Faith." Tried to read The Ghost Writer back in the early 80s and hurled it @ the wall.

m coleman (lovebug starski), Wednesday, 24 January 2007 11:37 (7 years ago) Permalink

Re: FDR attitude

This is, actually, to be found in a lot of Roth books. I think it's Zuckerman who remembers fondly and with nostalgia his parents taking the kids up to a train station to witness FDR's coffin be taken through.

g00blar (gooblar), Wednesday, 24 January 2007 12:42 (7 years ago) Permalink

Marmot, I asked a friend of mine to get me started with Roth, and he gave me Sabbath's Theater. As g00blar says, it's demanding and moving, but it didn't feel like hard work to me. I give it A++++++ WOULD READ AGAIN (hence my question to g00blar about where to go next), so if you like the sound of it then I say go with it.

g00blar: thanks for the Ghost Writer recommendation. It's in my Amazon shopping cart, and I'll post back here if I have any questions. I'm currently plodding through a copy of the Master and Margarita with terrible typography though, so that could take a while. Don't disappear in the meantime! This is a great thread!

caek (caek), Wednesday, 24 January 2007 22:45 (7 years ago) Permalink

so if you like the sound of it then I say go with it.

How does it compare to stuff like Steppenwolf or The Stranger? The wiki makes it sound like a more extreme/depraved version of that kind of thing. Either way, I'll see if I can find it next time I'm in my local used book shop.

Marmot (marmotwolof), Wednesday, 24 January 2007 22:58 (7 years ago) Permalink

Marmot, I've never read Steppenwolf, but ST's not really anything like the Stranger. It's not spare at all--it's wild and wooly, long and loud, full of action, rage, and despair. It's a loud book centered on an astoundingly, shockingly disgusting central character bent on getting more disgusting.

Caek, that's great you're gonna read TGW! It's really nothing like Sabbath, but it's fantastic!

g00blar (gooblar), Wednesday, 24 January 2007 23:39 (7 years ago) Permalink

1 month passes...
Londoners and Roth fans (and the unemployed): today, at 4pm, there'll be a screening of a recent interview with Roth (I think never before shown), as part of Jewish Book Week. It's at the Royal National Hotel, Bedford Way in Bloomsbury. It's free, and I'll be there!

G00blar, Wednesday, 28 February 2007 10:07 (7 years ago) Permalink

5 months pass...

Damn. I thought it was somewhere on this thread that someone mentioned that PR actually admitted somewhere (a conference in france maybe?) that Operation Shylock was all made up. I mean, everybody knows it is, but I'm trying to track down Roth's admission. Anyone?

G00blar, Tuesday, 31 July 2007 14:22 (7 years ago) Permalink

Re: The Ice Storm, IMDB says, 'The book Janey is reading while sitting on the water bed is "When She Was Good" by Philip Roth.'

caek, Sunday, 5 August 2007 11:47 (7 years ago) Permalink

Did anyone ever think Operation Shylock might NOT have been made up???

Hurting 2, Sunday, 5 August 2007 17:54 (7 years ago) Permalink

(not rhetorical question, I really don't know the history)

Hurting 2, Sunday, 5 August 2007 17:55 (7 years ago) Permalink

i just started the plot against america! yesterday!

s1ocki, Sunday, 5 August 2007 17:59 (7 years ago) Permalink

The Human Stain is awesome!

I haven't read Everyman, but does he end up realizing that Good Deeds are the only worthwhile pursuit? (like the medieval play)

poortheatre, Sunday, 5 August 2007 18:16 (7 years ago) Permalink

can anyone point me to the new yorker article referenced above? or give more specific identifiers i could use to search for it?

This just occurred to me after reading that piece about the pot-smoking ex-orthodox-Jew in the New Yorker -- do you think there's a wider theme in contemporary Jewish literature of overly-self-conscious transgression, perhaps having something to do with the combination of guilt, sarcasm and lack of a hell-sized threat of damnation in Jewish culture?

-- A-ron Hubbard (Hurting)

W i l l, Sunday, 5 August 2007 19:49 (7 years ago) Permalink

Did anyone ever think Operation Shylock might NOT have been made up???

Nah, no one did, which is sort of the interesting thing.* I mean, everybody knows it's fiction, but if Roth's never said so--if, in fact, he's sworn up and down that it's non-fiction--how, exactly, do we know? Because I have to write about this shit, it feels sort of unconsidered to just write: "Although Operation Shylock is subtitled 'A Confession', and claims to be a true story, c'maaaaaan."

*Mark Shechner, I think, has probably come closest to trying to take PR at his word--he basically ends up saying that at the end of the day it doesn't matter whether the book is a true account or not.

(But I don't really care about all this shit

G00blar, Sunday, 5 August 2007 22:33 (7 years ago) Permalink

2 months pass...

Just started Ghost Writer. Roth really can turn a sentence around, can't he? Questions to follow.

caek, Wednesday, 17 October 2007 08:45 (6 years ago) Permalink

5 months pass...

75 years old today.

G00blar, Wednesday, 19 March 2008 09:42 (6 years ago) Permalink

I would have thought you'd had enough of him to last a lifetime!

Masonic Boom, Wednesday, 19 March 2008 09:47 (6 years ago) Permalink

Yeah serious. In some ways, I'll never be free.

G00blar, Wednesday, 19 March 2008 09:54 (6 years ago) Permalink

the day after Updike turned 76 huh

johnny crunch, Wednesday, 19 March 2008 11:39 (6 years ago) Permalink

I read the Zuckerman Bound collection recently. despite upthread dissing The Anatomy lesson was my fav section

johnny crunch, Wednesday, 19 March 2008 11:56 (6 years ago) Permalink

7 months pass...

If anyone wants to read me blabbing about Roth, this thing, which came out in July I think, is finally online.

Manchego Bay (G00blar), Monday, 17 November 2008 15:37 (5 years ago) Permalink

Manchego Bay (G00blar), Monday, 17 November 2008 15:41 (5 years ago) Permalink

3 months pass...

Roth to publish new novel this autumn, another novel next year.

f f murray abraham (G00blar), Wednesday, 4 March 2009 19:03 (5 years ago) Permalink

“The Humbling,” which is scheduled for the fall, is a novel about an aging stage actor whose empty life is altered by “a counterplot of unusual erotic desire,” the publisher said. The company (which awarded its Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship to “Goodbye, Columbus” in 1959) will also release “Nemesis,” a work of fiction by Mr. Roth, above. Set in the summer of 1944, it tells of a polio epidemic and its effects on a closely knit Newark community and its children. That book is scheduled for publication in 2010.

tbh that description sounds like a Philip Roth madlib e.g. coming winter 2009 Philip Roth's "Words Like Arrows" interlaces the story of Daniel Lampel a blah blah blah In 1950s Weequahic blah blah blah overweening mother blah blah blah fictional small-town college blah blah blah parallels to current political situations blah blah blah

still excited though. i thought indignation was good, though hard not to compare with everyman just because of length and setting etc.

schlump, Wednesday, 4 March 2009 19:37 (5 years ago) Permalink

How often do you read Roth? I've read eight-and-a-bit of his now. I feel a bit exhausted at the end of each one, so have to go through a good long rest period before trying him again. So while I think I'd be pretty happy to read no other authors ever again, I don't actually think it would raise my Roth rate very much

Ismael Klata, Wednesday, 4 March 2009 19:41 (5 years ago) Permalink

i think i read the few zuckermans i've gone through in fairly quick succession, but then they start fairly easily. a couple of his are more pageturning than others - the plot against america - but then i know i probably waited a while after the human stain. i'm a little sketchy on my tally of how many i've read because i've set aside a bunch half way through - my life as a man, portnoy, the third? zuckerman book with the zionism and the illness (so glad when i found out that other people couldn't motivate themselves to plough through it either). some of it's psychologically dense enough to feel like you need a rest, for sure.

schlump, Wednesday, 4 March 2009 19:44 (5 years ago) Permalink

although unlike shipley and jordan and dom i have actually met whiney g weingarten in person for approx 45 seconds

abebe¿abebe (and what), Wednesday, 4 March 2009 19:49 (5 years ago) Permalink

haw wrong thread!@!

abebe¿abebe (and what), Wednesday, 4 March 2009 19:49 (5 years ago) Permalink

How often do you read Roth? I've read eight-and-a-bit of his now. I feel a bit exhausted at the end of each one, so have to go through a good long rest period before trying him again. So while I think I'd be pretty happy to read no other authors ever again, I don't actually think it would raise my Roth rate very much

I'm obviously not a normal case, as I read little other than Roth for 4+ years (ok, I had to read a bunch of other stuff, but I had to *always* be reading/thinking about/writing on Roth). I don't feel exhausted at the end of a Roth book, no--although above, I think Laurel(?) said she thought his endings are weird, they tend to leave me exhilarated more than anything else. I guess I can understand that, if you were not a fan of his voice, the books could be exhausting, because that voice is so insistent, so persistent, that you'd just say 'enough already'. But I love his authorial voice, and I can open pretty much any of his books feel pretty much total trust in where that voice might take me.

f f murray abraham (G00blar), Thursday, 5 March 2009 12:10 (5 years ago) Permalink

i really enjoyed that piece you linked, it's really insightful!!!

urban-suburban hip-hop settings (hmmmm), Thursday, 5 March 2009 12:28 (5 years ago) Permalink

Thanks a lot!

f f murray abraham (G00blar), Thursday, 5 March 2009 12:33 (5 years ago) Permalink

2 months pass...

I got Exit Ghost in hardback for £1 today (Union Street Poundland, all you Glasgowers - and perhaps other Poundlands across the country). I haven't read anything else by him though I've been meaning to, so 1. can I read this without reading the other Zuckerman books? and 2. if I can, is it a good idea?

Like, (Expletive) my (expletive). (Merdeyeux), Monday, 18 May 2009 15:13 (5 years ago) Permalink

if i'm in the toon this week I'll definitely be going to the Poundland.

languid samuel l. jackson (jim), Monday, 18 May 2009 15:33 (5 years ago) Permalink

Interesting fact: Philip Roth writes a lot about dick, and Philip Dick writes a lot about wrath.

Subtlest Fart Joke (Oilyrags), Monday, 18 May 2009 17:57 (5 years ago) Permalink

1. yes
2. no, cause he wrote much better books than exit ghost

Zeno, Monday, 18 May 2009 18:02 (5 years ago) Permalink

this, basically^

Exit Ghost has some good bits, and it's a great idea of a book, but Roth didn't do as much as he should of with the set-up, I thought. It wasn't funny enough, for one. (And what was with the ten pages out of nowhere on Plimpton?) It's by no means a bad book, though; Roth writes circles around most other authors so there's always pleasure to be found in his books (for me, at least).

Bathtime at the Apollo (G00blar), Monday, 18 May 2009 19:06 (5 years ago) Permalink

Just picked up Zuckerman Bound secondhand. The Ghost Writer's a lovely, concise, subtle piece of work. Zuckerman Unbound is wildly solipsistic but funny and odd, especially the scenes with Alvin Pepler. The Anatomy Lesson seems to me completely pointless and rudderless but like G00blar says, there's pleasure to be found along the way. I'm hoping The Prague Orgy turns things around a bit. Reading The Anatomy Lesson, there's no way you'd predict the later Zuckerman masterpieces. Zuckerman (and by extension Roth) is so much better when he's observing and recording someone else's story rather than writing about himself, I think, although I haven't read The Counterlife or Exit Ghost yet.

Love this thread by the way G00blar. Perfect companion to my current Roth binge.

Dorian (Dorianlynskey), Monday, 18 May 2009 19:45 (5 years ago) Permalink

Nice! Yeah, you should continue with the Prague Orgy and The Counterlife, the latter of which will give you ample time to compare Zuckerman writing about himself and writing about others. It's an astounding piece of work, Roth operating on all cylinders.

Bathtime at the Apollo (G00blar), Monday, 18 May 2009 20:03 (5 years ago) Permalink

(And what was with the ten pages out of nowhere on Plimpton?)

I'm assuming Roth wrote them from the heart.

Eazy, Monday, 18 May 2009 20:19 (5 years ago) Permalink

4 months pass...

I recently ploughed through Operation Shylock and am nearing the end of The Counterlife. Both books feature extended sequences in Israel that start off plausibly enough, before descending to a greater or lesser extent into something less like farce and more like an extended Jewish in-joke. My question is: what is the goyische reader supposed to take from these bits?

Ismael Klata, Friday, 16 October 2009 13:58 (4 years ago) Permalink

I enjoyed this Roth interview in today's Times. It doesn't go into great depth, but I liked the bits about his method.

He seems agreeably free of pretension, interested above all in good stories - which makes my question more of a puzzle to me, really. I love nabisco's story upthread about the mother in The Plot Against America, it's a little hard to reconcile that with the in-jokes and self-referencey bits that have plagues the ones I've read recently.

Ismael Klata, Saturday, 17 October 2009 12:18 (4 years ago) Permalink

3 weeks pass...

"If you read a novel in more than two weeks you don't read the novel really."
http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/oct/26/philip-roth-novel-minority-cult

discuss

peter falk's panther burns (schlump), Thursday, 12 November 2009 17:52 (4 years ago) Permalink


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