Hogan's Alley

Friday, May 12, 2006

Philip Roth, "Everyman" - Faithful Chronicler of Life

Speaking of mature American artists, Philip Roth's latest novel, his 27th book and his fifth of the twenty-first century, has been published. I haven't read it, beyond the first ten pages yet, but it looks like a gem. Like Paul Simon, Roth has the incredible ability to speak of life as he lives it. Now, in "Everyman", Roth speaks of the time of Dylan Thomas' "The dying of the light".

For this novel, Roth prefaces the book with a quote from Keats:

Here where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last grey hairs,
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow.
In a front page review in last Sunday's NY Times Book Review, the great South African novelist, Nadine Gordimer, absolutely raved about Roth and this novel. Here are two samples:

If Portnoy has never been outgrown, only grown old, he is, in his present avatar, an everyman whose creator makes the term "insight" something to be tossed away as inadequate.
And this:

Another ecstasy. Not to be denied by mortality. Philip Roth is a magnificent victor in attempting to disprove Georg Lukacs's dictum of the impossible aim of the writer to encompass all of life.
One is not likely to find such praise by one writer of another very often. And the novel is apparently full of the politics of our time as well. Gordimer approves.

Roth's people, whether politically activist or not, live in our world — and the bared-teeth decorum of academe is its gowned microcosm — terrorized by fear of the Other abroad and State authoritarianism at the throat at home.
She goes on to draw a far too facile connection between the mythical Charles Lindbergh of Roth's last novel, "The Plot Against America", in which Lucky Lindy is elected President despite his admiration for Hitler, and President Bush and the noisy fundamentalism of some in Republican circles.

Such critical posturings left aside, I look forward to enjoying Roth's latest. Since its subject touches on end of life issues, it is not likely to spring to the top of the best seller lists as bright, easy summer reading. But then, nothing truly great ever does.