Tag Archives: Philip Roth

Exit Ghost by Philip Roth

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.

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Everyman, by Philip Roth

Everyman, by Philip Roth is a book leaving the reader much to ponder. Though short in pages, this book is long on intensity, its pages resound with insight, intensity and emotion, as we view one man’s life and his body’s decline due to physical breakdown and aging.

Everyman begins with the funeral of the protagonist, and travels backwards, through his life. The human essence of the man through the aging process (heart problems, etc.), his fears, his loss of physical capability and sexual prowess, his obsessive behavior, his awareness of his rudeness and negative attitude (and his inability to knowingly redeem himself for his behaviors), are all encompassed in one exceptionally articulated novel. His mind never fails him, but his body is a constant reminder to him, that his wants and desires can not be fulfilled.

We do manage to feel empathy for him, even with all of the negativeness that make up the man, and his very essence. And, that is no small feat, given the circumstances we find him in. Therein lies the brilliance of Roth, that he could bring us full circle, through the gamut of emotions and ugly behavior, only to empathize, in the end.

Roth’s insight into the human perception of the body’s deterioration, not only, physically, but emotionally, gives us material to consider, such as who we are, what we are? What is the meaning of life? What does life mean not only to ourselves, but also to those in our lives? Is our life a sum of our sexuality, or does it hold more within its physical anatomy? What makes up a person’s soul, character, illumination? Everyman offers lessons to those dealing with those very issue.

Everyman is an amazing and excellent psychological and character study on inner struggles, aging, self-identity, and what it means to Be. Roth, masterfully cuts to the core in describing the aging process and the role it plays on our emotions. Philip Roth is vividly descriptive with his imagery. We are left to ponder age, and how it affects, not only our minds and emotions, but also our physical and sexual being. We might feel younger than our bodies tell us we are, and we might be extremely cognizant on day-to-day issues, but in the end, our bodies can deceive us. Our mind can wander and play tricks on us, leading us to believe we can accomplish more than we can. Philip Roth brilliantly emphasizes very concisely how growing older impacts our abilities to perform and live dignified, on a daily basis. Who said it would be easy?!

I personally own and have read this book.
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The Counterlife, by Philip Roth

Philip Roth has long been one of my favorite male authors, and in his novel, The Counterlife, I am reminded of his ability to blend the bizarre twists and turns that life throws us into a work of art that resounds with his full range and depth of literary intensity.

Nathan and Henry Zuckerman are estranged brothers, so very different, yet unaware how much alike they actually are. Nathan is an author, Henry is a dentist. For one of them, the reason for living borders on being able to be sexually active. In this respect, he decides to undergo surgery in order to counteract that problem. Even though the surgery could kill him, he elects to take that chance, all in the name of sexual identity. It is his counter life, to fit a desired outcome, a longing for what many of us want, a home, a family, marriage, and the “idealized” life.

Nathan, has long been estranged from Henry, and as an author, seems to live through his brother, writing novels whose characters include Henry. He has a counterlife through his stories, his fantasies and fiction, and his identity is one that is alive due to Henry. Although he is a prolific author in his own right, his works are derived from Henry’s life.

Therein lies the clue in this well written novel. The issue of identity, and what it means to us, is at the core of the story line. What one will do, in order to preserve identity, to create the life we long for, and what we view as our Self, our essence, is the soul of the book. The characters each invent a counter life, a life invented, a life created, in order to transfer their current life, into one they believe is better. The reader is exposed to the characters fears and how they choose to rewrite their own histories.

From travels to Israel, and connecting with one’s Jewish spirituality, to funeral attendance, and delivering a eulogy, from the streets of the U.S, to France, and England, we are confronted with issues of identity, including spirtiual, emotional, sexual, and all the levels and tiers in between. We are confronted with our own questions of identity, who we are, what we believe, and, finally the question of whether the end result is our own creation of ourselves?

Roth writes with humor, with seriousness, and with a profound and intense insight into the humanity, the insecurities, the deep fears, and the identity crises that exists within all of us. Roth’s strong words and strong theme, shows us how a counter life is not always productive, but could produce undesirable effects, in the end. We might not always receive what we wish for, but then again, we might receive it, but it could turn out that our counter life is actually counter-productive. Philip Roth’s The Counterlife is excellent, and his writing is masterful and brilliant, encapsulating the full range of emotions, and writing down to the bare bones, as only he knows how.

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American Pastoral, by Philip Roth

Philip Roth’s American Pastoral is a novel that is filled with so much insight, description, vivid details, emotion, and intensity, that I read it straight through. It is a novel I have wanted to read for quite some time, and I am definitely glad I finally did. I am an avid Roth fan, and have read most of his books, and am always intrigued by his brilliance in writing on the emotional aspects of the human story, why we become who we are within our environment, and how we not only perceive ourselves but how others perceive us, and how we view others within the scheme of our lives.

The main character is a man named Swede Levov, a Jew, who feels he is living the so-called “American Dream” the life pastoral. His light hair, fair complexion and skill in sports earned him the nickname of Swede. This name carried with him throughout his life, evoking adoration from others, evoking a false sense of security within himself, evoking promises of the good life, for those who shoulder the burdens of life, for those who internalize their feelings.

Swede is the good son, the son that his parents adore for the attention and admiration he brings to them, in a world where Jews are not normally paid attention to. He brings them luck, and brings himself luck. He is the high school hero, the one the boys and girls look up to, the one that all girls dream of marrying. He marries a former Miss New Jersey, and they build a life together. Swede inherits his father’s glove factory. He and his wife, Dawn, find a stone house that he loves, and they buy it. They seem to be living the idyllic life in the New Jersey suburbs, in the village of Old Rimrock. They have a daughter named Merry, who turns out to be the thorn in their side.

Merry commits a crime of passion and terrorism, which causes Swede, his wife, and other family members to turn inward, causing their lives to become overturned, emotionally and physically. Life is never the same for this “American Pastoral” family, and Merry’s act of crime and violence bring Swede to his knees with sorrow, anger, leaving him to question his own life. The once calm Swede, turns violent within his internal Being, screaming inside himself, unable to emit and belch out his true feelings, in order not to upset his wife and the rest of his family. He shoulders all the emotional burdens, because that is what is expected of him.

This is all he knows, his life burdens kept in quietude, on the back burner, in order to keep up the illusion of the hero, the man with everything, the man everyone admires and looks up to, the man everyone wants to become. When Swede’s daughter commits the unthinkable act, his very essence is questioned, and the deplorable aspects of who he is and what he has become are shown with a clarity he never knew existed.

His pastoral life is suddenly a life of acute disgust. He goes beserk, talks to himself, is in a state of panic, constantly questioning his entire existence, and wondering how things could go so wrong. There doesn’t seem to be a clear answer, other than the pastoral life has become one of inner and outer turmoil, condemnation and disgust.

How Swede handles the repercussions of Merry’s devious deed is brought to the forefront through Philip Roth’s brilliant writing, his insight into the human mind and emotions, and through his emotional intelligence. His word imagery is filled with clarity, and vibrancy. American Pastoral is definitely a masterpiece, in my opinion, written by a master. I highly recommend American Pastoral to everyone.

~~Book Diva

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