Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Catching Up with Philip Roth, 3

Thanks--as I've written before--to the Library of America, I'm able now to read those Philip Roth novels that I'd never bought (there are more of them than I'd thought ... why?). Just yesterday, I finished his 1974 novel, My Life as a Man, now available in the LOA's 2006 Roth volume Novels: 1973-1977.

A word about reading LOA volumes. Not long ago, I read some columnist/critic/who(?), who said that he (she?) didn't really enjoy reading books in the standard LOA format. I thought, Well, that's kind of ... snooty! I've read lots of those volumes--the most in one series of sittings when I was working my way through the novels of Henry James a few years ago. James had given me trouble in college. The Americans was all right (short, comprehensible to the Me of Then), but The Ambassadors (assigned by my favorite professor, Dr. Ravitz, in an American Thought class in the mid-1960s) I just couldn't read--rather, I couldn't stay awake when I was reading.

Henry James
I tried reading in my dorm room ... zzzzzzzzzzz. I tried reading in the Hiram College Library ... zzzzzzzzz. I didn't try reading while I was walking across campus only because it's kind of dangerous to fall asleep while you're moving.

Later (more mature?), I read The Ambassadors and loved it, and then, as I said, a few summers ago I read all the Henry James novels I'd not read before (viz., most of them).

Anyway--to get to the point: I didn't mind the LOA format for all those novels. In fact, I found a kind of comfort in it. Not to mention the convenience. I've also read other, isolated volumes in the LOA series (which, as I've written before, we own all of--yes, that's an awkward locution right there, but I'm too lazy to try to fix it), and my wife, Joyce, is now doing the same as she's working on her book about John Brown. She has about a dozen volumes near her in her upstairs sanctum.

But now, for some reason, I am finding the LOA format a little tedious as I read my way through my neglected Roth. Just the first few minutes, though. Once I've read a little bit, I get lost in the story, and I forget about the display of it.

Anyway ... My Life as a Man ...  which occupies pp. 378-678 in the LOA volume I've mentioned. Roth uses a playful structure in the novel, presenting it as the work of one Peter Tarnopol, who writes some about Nathan Zuckerman, a character whom Roth readers will immediately recognize, a character Roth employed many, many times.

We see Nathan as a bright and very randy young man, his various (and invariably unpleasant) love affairs.

We learn a lot about Tarnopol's life as well--his own disastrous relationships.

Again, Roth moves about in time like a busy photon, darting here and there to fill us in on the relevant backstories of his characters. We learn fairly early, for example, that Tarnopol has struck his wife Maureen--but it's many pages later before Roth gives us in full the very unpleasant scene--one that's difficult to read.

Roth also salts his text with allusions--from Virginia Woolf to Hawthorne (Roger Chillingworth). And--as is also common in Roth--there's a psychotherapist involved.

As I've written before, Roth is masterful at ending his novels, and this one is no exception. I'll issue a spoiler alert here before I talk about the end of this one.

Maureen--his wife, his principal antagonist--has died, and he is free now to deepen his relationship with Susan. But at the end he stares and her--and wonders ... what's next? He wonders what will go wrong this time; he wonders if he's even capable of sustaining a relationship--a healthy one. But Roth conveys this in very few words, words that left me feeling a kind of horror about his future--and hers.

Yesterday afternoon, I began Roth's I Married a Communist (1998) and, so far, am enjoying/admiring it--a novel about the era of the McCarthy and House Un-American Activities Committee. (I wonder if I'm enjoying it so much because an old retired secondary-school English teacher carries much of the narration?!?!)

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