Philip Roth : a counterlife

2021, Book , xx, 546 pages :
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Summary/Review: "This account of Philip Roth traces the psychological and artistic origins of his creative life. It examines the major events of his career, while ide more...
Summary/Review: "This account of Philip Roth traces the psychological and artistic origins of his creative life. It examines the major events of his career, while identifying a series of personal themes in his writing, from his relationship with Judaism to family, marriage, Eastern Europe and America. It addresses his private challenges from romance and health, to surviving as a writer burdened with success. The book also reflects how living outside the United States, initially in Italy and then England, plus his visits to Eastern Europe and exposure to their oppressed writers affected his writing. In particular, it primed him for a new engagement with American political and social history, resulting in a renewed determination to re-write America through his American trilogy and The Plot Against America. Although chronology is the framework, this is a thematic reading of Roth's life and career with attention to family, self-identity and success. A set of contrasting angles form this approach, beginning with his prolonged sense of discontent, yet public image of success, his search for sustained relationships but then decision to end them, his idealization of his parents but persistent undercurrent of criticism. Three overlapping issues provide the impetus for this reading: the aesthetic, the emotional and the historical. The lasting importance of such themes as anger, betrayal and failure has a vital role in understanding Roth's character and work. So, too, does his sense of performance on and off the page. Location is also significant and there are extensive discussions of Newark, London, Iowa, Prague and rural Connecticut. Particular attention to writers of the Holocaust, notably Primo Levi and Aharon Appelfeld, and contemporaries such as Saul Bellow and Bernard Malamud, also frame the narrative along with discussions of John Updike, Cynthia Ozick, Norman Mailer, Nadine Gordimer and Nicole Krauss. Works receiving special attention are Portnoy's Complaint, The Ghost Writer, Sabbath's Theater and the American trilogy. The shifting patterns of Roth's writing style, often related to changes in his physical and psychological health, are also considered. But more importantly is Roth's character and how early incidents formed later behavior, especially his inability to forget the past, particularly an insult or criticism. Analysis of his life with his two wives, Margaret (Maggie) Williams and Claire Bloom also occurs, as well as his relationships with other women. Further commentary focuses on Roth's illnesses and his life after he publically announced that he had stopped writing"--
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