Exit Ghost, by Philip Roth is seemingly the last novel in the Nathan Zuckerman series, but who knows for certain. What I do know is that Roth has woven a story-within-a-story with brilliance as only he can succeed in, capturing our emotions on many levels.
Roth brings us characters we relate to, beginning with Nathan Zuckerman, a physically impotent, incontinent, diaper-wearing man in his seventies, who has led a reclusive life for eleven years in the Berkshires, due to a series of threats he received on his life. He leaves his protective cocoon and is brought back into Manhattan in order to have surgery that might possibly help his incontinence. While there, his old existence stirs up memories, emotions and thoughts he had long put to rest.
Zuckerman’s thoughts begin to take hold regarding his mentor and author hero, E.I. Lonoff, and he encounters Amy Bellette who was Lonoff’s lover two characters from the book Ghost Writer . His thoughts wander back to his early twenties, when his life revolved around his ambitions, and his aggressive behavior in order to reach his goals. He remembers his fleeting interest in Bellette, and how she is presently suffering from brain surgery and a recurring brain tumor, but still astute enough to want to protect Lonoff’s literary image from a would-be biographer, who means to destroy Lonoff’s reputation. The city grips him, and he is caught up in rash judgements and events, making decisions based on emotion, not rational thought.
While in Manhattan he meets a married couple through a newspaper ad (Billy Davidoff and Jamie Logan Davidoff), who he impulsively agrees to swap houses with…he will remain in their small apartment in the city, they will live in his secluded house in the Berkshires, miles from the nearest town. She wants solitude due to her fears from September 11th. He begins to let his mind wander (his physical body may not be responsive, but he still has the capacity to think and fantasize about sex). Therein lies the basis for Zuckerman’s new novel…a “he said, she said, series of imagined conversations.
Roth also writes about the current administration, current technology, and current medical advances within the story line. We are given characters that are all seeking solitude and protection in one form or another, whether it be from emotional pain, physical pain, medical issues, aging, or otherwise. Roth has done it once more, and captivates his audience with excellent word imagery, insightful emotional content…often heart-wrenching, and with masterful writing. We will all come to the autumn season, eventually, and Roth demonstrates the ability of the mind and heart to blend together, in order to manage to live (as best we can with our limitations) through the fragile and delicate autumn of our lives.