Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 15 of 19

Thread: Philip Roth

  1. #1
    Registered User Heteronym's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2010
    Location
    Portugal
    Posts
    352

    Post Philip Roth

    Philip Roth is my favourite living novelist; I also consider him the best contemporary American novelist. I’ve read: The Ghost Writer, Zuckerman Unbound, The Anatomy Lesson, American Pastoral, I Married A Communist, The Human Stain, Operation Shylock, The Plot Against America, Goodbye, Columbus, Letting Go, Portnoy’s Complaint, Sabbath’s Theater, and The Prague Orgy, his only work I haven’t enjoyed to date. I’m currently reading When She Was Good. I like to think I’ve read enough by him to judge his work fairly and appreciate it without the distortions that often cling to the discussions about him.

    There are some lazy accusations against Roth that recur like clichés that refuse to die. My favourite accusation, and the easiest to counter, is that Roth always writes the same novel; this Standard Roth Novel always involves a sleazy male protagonist full of sexual hang-ups niggling about his miserable life. And he’s always Jewish.

    This latter fact is as abominable as the fact that most Vargas Llosa’s novels have Peruvian male protagonists, or that most Kundera’s novels have Czech male protagonists, or that most Dostoevsky’s novels have male Russian protagonists. Like I wrote, laziness.

    But, the critic will say, it’s a fact that Roth only writes about sex. This is another gross misunderstanding of his work, perpetuated by one of his most popular novels, Portnoy’s Complaint. In fact Roth writes predominantly about human relationships, of which sexuality is a part. He writes about fathers and sons, husbands and wives, marriage, divorce, child-rearing, death and mourning, and loneliness. This is, of course, the meat of his novels; other themes include racism, anti-Semitism, Jewish discrimination against Gentiles, McCarthyism, terrorism, celebrity cult, adoption, politics, Vietnam, combat stress reaction, old age, wife beating, alcoholism, Puritanism, music, marionettes, baseball, World War II, the Great Depression, and class conflicts. Roth constantly finds new things to write about and often gives his characters different backgrounds, interests and personalities.

    Another criticism against Roth is his misogyny. Again I think Portnoy’s Complaint, for being so iconic, has planted in most people’s minds the notion that Roth’s novels are just long ramblings against women. There are two arguments against this: the first is that Roth has created some extraordinarily vivid female characters, with deep inner lives, such as Brenda Patimkin (Goodbye, Columbus), Lucy Nelson (When She Was Good), Libby Herz and Martha Reganhart (Letting Go), and Faunia Farley (The Human Stain). But, the critics complain, his women are castrating ball-busters, mean-spirited, selfish, hysterical, and manic. This is absolutely true, and it’d be a damning fact against Roth if his male characters weren’t much worse. The poverty of interpretation of the people who criticise Roth never ceases to amaze me. One has to be a very poor reader to take a figure like Alex Portnoy at face value, as a spokesman for the author. When I was reading Portnoy’s Complaint, I quickly realised Alex was meant to be laughed at, not with. Only someone with little experience reading thinks Roth is condoning the disgusting behaviour of Alex, and only someone biased and looking for controversy fails to notice that all the women that Alex treats like objects and sex dolls are better adjusted, more sensitive and normal than him.

    Alex is written for laughs. Roth doesn’t write for laughs when he’s writing about alcoholic fathers, wife-beaters and family men who run out on their families. Misandry is acceptable and laudable, but suggesting that women can be horrible human beings too is taboo and must be suppressed with critical backlash.

    Another point that detractors often bring up is that Roth is an insignificant, insular writer in world literature. This is mere wishful thinking and flies in the face of evidence to the contrary. Although he doesn’t write about the pain of exile or war-torn countries, worthy themes, his novels about ordinary people with ordinary problems are much admired by world-renowned writers such as Saul Bellow, J.M. Coetzee and Milan Kundera, who recently devoted a chapter to him in Encounters. Roth, on the other hand, was essential in bringing Eastern European writers such as Kundera, Danilo Kis, Tadeusz Borowski, Bruno Schulz and more to the attention of American readers, thanks to his work as editor of Penguin’s Writers From Other Europe series. Obviously Roth is quite conversant with world literature. And he’s widely translated.

    What do you think?
    Last edited by Heteronym; 08-08-2011 at 03:47 AM.

  2. #2
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Jan 2011
    Location
    Chicago
    Posts
    181
    Wow, good review of an author, I haven't read him but I recently acquired Portnoys Complaint and will now read it soon.

  3. #3
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Posts
    1,206

    Cool What do I think of Roth?

    I've started four of his books and couldn't finish one. I find him exceedingly boring, as I do Delilo and other postmodern writers. If you like him, read him. I wont.

  4. #4
    Registered User Heteronym's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2010
    Location
    Portugal
    Posts
    352
    Quote Originally Posted by ChicagoReader View Post
    Wow, good review of an author, I haven't read him but I recently acquired Portnoys Complaint and will now read it soon.
    Portnoy's Complaint is an excellent novel, but a break with his early realistic period. It marks the beginning of a funnier period in Roth's career, and more self-reflexive: this is where the myth that Roth just writes about himself comes from. This novel disguised as a confession was so powerful that people mistook it as a confession disguised as a novel. Roth then followed this up with the superior trilogy Zuckerman Bound, which further confused things by introducing Roth's supposed alter ego Nathan Zuckerman. Then it got really funny when he started writing about a character called Philip Roth in novels such as Operation Shylock and The Plot Against America.
    Last edited by Heteronym; 08-09-2011 at 04:22 AM.

  5. #5
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Dec 2009
    Posts
    32
    I've only read The Human Stain, which I did enjoy. It is clear he has a supreme talent for prose, some passages were mindblowing despite him writing on a very mundane subject.

    However because of this, I can see why Roth would not be to many people's taste. Huge paragraphs which last pages made The Human Stain a slight slog, in my view.

  6. #6
    Registered User Heteronym's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2010
    Location
    Portugal
    Posts
    352
    Quote Originally Posted by dfloyd View Post
    I've started four of his books and couldn't finish one. I find him exceedingly boring, as I do Delilo and other postmodern writers. If you like him, read him. I wont.
    Postmodernism is one of those vague and befuddling terms that means everything and nothing. I've read people call Homer postmodernist, so let's be precise. Why do you concretely think Roth is a postmodernist and what about his novels bores you?

    Quote Originally Posted by lowradiation View Post
    I've only read The Human Stain, which I did enjoy. It is clear he has a supreme talent for prose, some passages were mindblowing despite him writing on a very mundane subject.
    I love Roth's work exactly because it's so down-to-earth; he explores the conflicts of the quotidian with great depth. He turns simple stories of failed marriages and intergenerational conflicts into opportunities to probe the dreams, passions, insecurities and fears that exist in the human soul.

    That's not to say he doesn't have a vivid imagination, he just doesn't use it as often as he wants because I think his main concern is exactly the mundane, as you say. When he flexes his creative muscles, he writes unpredictable novels such as Operation Shylock, a modern-day use of the doppelgänger figure, or Our Gang, a ferociously funny satire of Richard Nixon: I wouldn't be surprised if Larry Beinhart's novel (and the movie) Wag the Dog hadn't been inspired by it.

  7. #7
    So where should one start with Philip Roth if they are completely new to him?

  8. #8
    Registered User Heteronym's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2010
    Location
    Portugal
    Posts
    352
    I'd recommend American Pastoral: it's generally considered his masterpiece. I believe it gives a good idea of Roth's ability to craft elegant prose and to create credible, fully-developed characters. It also shows his insightful understanding of American culture and history. It helped me, back when Roth was almost a stranger to me, to fall in love with his work.

    For an equally well written novel, but in a funnier tone, read Operation Shylock: it's his comical masterpiece, in my humble opinion. It's about a writer called Philip Roth travelling to Israel to report the trials of war criminals only to discover there's a man also calling himself Philip Roth arguing for a new diaspora. Oh, and it has the Anti-Semites Anonymous, an organisation created by this double to help haters learn to love Jews. It even has its ten tenets to follow: "1. We admit that we are haters prone to prejudice and powerless to control our hatred," and so on. It's awesome!

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Heteronym View Post
    I'd recommend American Pastoral: it's generally considered his masterpiece. I believe it gives a good idea of Roth's ability to craft elegant prose and to create credible, fully-developed characters. It also shows his insightful understanding of American culture and history. It helped me, back when Roth was almost a stranger to me, to fall in love with his work.

    For an equally well written novel, but in a funnier tone, read Operation Shylock: it's his comical masterpiece, in my humble opinion. It's about a writer called Philip Roth travelling to Israel to report the trials of war criminals only to discover there's a man also calling himself Philip Roth arguing for a new diaspora. Oh, and it has the Anti-Semites Anonymous, an organisation created by this double to help haters learn to love Jews. It even has its ten tenets to follow: "1. We admit that we are haters prone to prejudice and powerless to control our hatred," and so on. It's awesome!
    thanks, on the TBR pile, what's a few more, right?

  10. #10
    Registered User
    Join Date
    May 2010
    Posts
    37
    I have only read ONE Philip Roth book: 'Portnoy's complaint, and I don't think I'll be reading another any time soon. Not my thing at all - to me it would no doubt be easier to just go on the internet, find a stereotypical 'loser', sexually frustrated, male blogger and read their angry rants - instead of pretending to be literary with Philip Roth's books.
    Maybe I just spend way too much time on the internet and am jaded - or maybe I'm just not really into reading gross details about how someone always ends up with feces stains in their underwear. I'm British - maybe I just have different sense of humour. Each to their own.

  11. #11
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Aug 2009
    Posts
    3,093
    I'm British, but I think Roth is great. He's developed since Portnoy's complaint. I've recently read several of his "late short novels" and found them very rewarding. Try "Nemesis" or "Indignation".

  12. #12
    Registered User Heteronym's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2010
    Location
    Portugal
    Posts
    352
    Quote Originally Posted by ariella View Post
    I have only read ONE Philip Roth book: 'Portnoy's complaint, and I don't think I'll be reading another any time soon. Not my thing at all - to me it would no doubt be easier to just go on the internet, find a stereotypical 'loser', sexually frustrated, male blogger and read their angry rants - instead of pretending to be literary with Philip Roth's books.
    I doubt you could find an angry blogger with Portnoy's articulateness, self-scrutiny and self-deprecating humor. Portnoy is certainly not a loser. He's a successful man in life, he works in politics, he knows famous people, he's helped uncover the whole Quizz Show scandal (hilarious touch); he's considered a deeply moral and upstanding person by society, and that's why it's so funny to read him confess to his shrink all his sexual hang-ups. And in spite of his sexual. In spite of which he can still get any woman he wants in bed with him. He's not a loser who can't get women; he's a deeply troubled man who loves sex and gets it all the time, but feels guilty about it because of his upbringing.

    Maybe I just spend way too much time on the internet and am jaded - or maybe I'm just not really into reading gross details about how someone always ends up with feces stains in their underwear. I'm British - maybe I just have different sense of humour. Each to their own.
    That's quite an exaggeration. Portnoy mentions fecal stains in his underwear once in the novel, as far as I can remember. I thought it was an illustrative scene of his desire to please his mother, whom he paradoxically detests. He feels so devoted to her he compulsively wipes his bottom so she won't find the shorts soiled. I think any decent son worries about this; the difference is that Portnoy takes it an obsessive new level.

    And your Brit humor isn't that different. After all, you had Snuff Box. But that only lasted one season, so maybe it was too much for you

  13. #13
    Registered User
    Join Date
    May 2010
    Posts
    37
    'I doubt you could find an angry blogger with Portnoy's articulateness, self-scrutiny and self-deprecating humor'

    No there are actually TONNES OF bloggers and people in real life complaining like this. I just find life hard enough as it is, in general and dn't really want to know lurid description of someone who masturbates to their own sister's bra (does this even happen in this book? it was along time ago I read it) Err Why?!. Personally Prefer Howard Jacobsen - who is apparentley the 'British Philip Roth' - which I don't really think he is - but the humour in 'the Finkler question' is definitely way more my thing and less depressive. It's just individual preference. Afterall I have only read ONE Roth book but I heard all others are really similar; so I'd just prefer to read something more suited to me.

    Also I tend to dislike anything too overhyped and trendy sometimes, Philip Roth has a whole section devoted to him in Waterstones in current times, that doesn't bode well for me. It seems like if one person happens to find an author 'amazing' and 'witty' and 'funny', etc, sometimes too many jump on the bandwagon - without even thinking for themselves whether they actually truly did like the content of the books.
    I'm really careful about whether I believe the hype.
    Last edited by ariella; 08-17-2011 at 04:56 PM.

  14. #14
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Location
    Eugene, OR
    Posts
    2,332
    I loved “The Great American Novel”, which ranks as one of the best baseball novels ever (if a bit derivative of "The Glory of Their Times", the best non-fictin baseball book). In addition, Roth has written dozens of accessible, very funny short stories. His letters to Einstein, written by a Jewish theatrical agent in an attempt to get aforementioned Albert to become more popular than “The Answer Man”, are pure genius.

  15. #15
    Registered User Heteronym's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2010
    Location
    Portugal
    Posts
    352
    No there are actually TONNES OF bloggers and people in real life complaining like this.
    Portnoy's Complaint was published in 1969 and made Roth a celebrity overnight because it struck a nerve with the American readership. Roth created an American man for that turbulent period, wrestling between his morally strict upbringing and his craving for sensual pleasures. It seems unfair to compare a bunch of people online with a landmark in American literature. I wonder how much they owe Roth for having innovated the confessional genre to the irreverent genre that it is today.

    I just find life hard enough as it is, in general and dn't really want to know lurid description of someone who masturbates to their own sister's bra (does this even happen in this book? it was along time ago I read it) Err Why?!.
    I think it happens, maybe not a bra, perhaps her panties. And I think it's great. But then again, I like frank sexuality and erotica. I know how to laugh at sex. You found it hard like life, I found it light-hearted. I was laughing loudly every page. Life is hard, lurid and absurd too; Roth has an obligation to be true to life.

    Afterall I have only read ONE Roth book but I heard all others are really similar; so I'd just prefer to read something more suited to me.
    Yes, that's the bad cliché that refuses to die. Roth is, in fact, extremely versatile and to my mind has never repeated himself. Let's just quickly describe his career in chronological order:

    Goodbye, Columbus: working-class Jewish man falls in love with upper-class Jewish girl.

    Letting Go: Jewish man tries to help out the turbulent marriage of Jewish man and his Christian wife, while trying to build a relationship with a divorcee mother of two.

    When She Was Good: the daughter of a wife-beating alcoholic tries to get out of her mediocre life through college but gets pregnant and marries a man she loathes.

    Portnoy's Complaint: a novel in the form of a confession about a Jewish man whose love for sex is undermined by the strict upbringing that makes him feel guilty about the thing he loves the most.

    Our Gang: satire of Richard Nixon, forerunner of Wag the Dog.

    The Breast: the story of a literary professor who turns into a giant breast. A homage to Kafka and Gogol.

    The Great American Novel: a picaresque farce about a decadent American baseball team, the Ruppert Mundys, whose existence was purged from the history books because of a Communist conspiracy to destroy the USA by ridiculing its national pastime.

    My Life as Man: novel about writer dealing with the death of his wife. I understand this one is really semi-autobiographical.

    The Professor of Desire: chronicling the birth and life of David Kepesh from youth to his academic career.

    The Ghost Writer: aspiring writer Nathan Zuckerman visits his reclusive idol.

    Zuckerman Unbound: Zuckerman, famous after publishing Carnovsky (get it?), tries to cope with his new celebrity status while being pestered by kidnapers and weirdos who all want something from him.

    The Anatomy Lesson: Zuckerman, plagued by a mysterious disease, reflects about middle age, his loss of creative powers, his family and failed relationships.

    The Prague Orgy: Zuckerman travels to Prague to find the lost manuscripts of a dead Jewish writer (based on the life of Bruno Schulz).

    The Counterlife: Zuckerman and his brother, Henry, who fell out at the end of ZU, try to reconciliate their differences.

    Deception: A married man called Philip Roth has a long conversation with a married woman while they engage in an adulterous affair.

    Operation Shylock: Philip Roth travels to Israel to cover for a newspaper the trial of a war criminal; there he discovers an identical twin called Philip Roth preaching a new diaspora for the Jews.

    I could go on beyond 1993, but I think this shows very clearly that Roth is a diverse writer, in temperament and topics.

    Also I tend to dislike anything too overhyped and trendy sometimes, Philip Roth has a whole section devoted to him in Waterstones in current times, that doesn't bode well for me. It seems like if one person happens to find an author 'amazing' and 'witty' and 'funny', etc, sometimes too many jump on the bandwagon - without even thinking for themselves whether they actually truly did like the content of the books.
    I'm really careful about whether I believe the hype.
    I totally understand you. I'm guilty of that weakness of ego too. I too think myself too good for some critical darlings. How did I discover Roth? A British teacher I respected at university recommended him to me. I picked up The Plot Against America and I was hooked. Now we could argue that I was brainwashed by my teacher; but he also recommended me Raymond Carver and Julio Cortázar, and I think they're very weak. He wasn't keen on Borges and I think he's the greatest writer ever. So much for brainwashing then. I also happen to live in Portugal, so there was no Roth bandwagon to jump onto - I don't think I've ever met another Portuguese who's read Roth. I think I can safely say I read Roth compulsively simply because I love his prose, his humor, his insights about American culture and history in general and human relationships in particular, and his larger than life characters.

Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast

Similar Threads

  1. philip roth
    By EDward in forum General Literature
    Replies: 14
    Last Post: 06-23-2011, 01:42 PM
  2. Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth
    By Gregory Samsa in forum General Literature
    Replies: 7
    Last Post: 06-23-2011, 08:08 AM
  3. The Dying Animal by Philip Roth
    By victorianfan in forum Write a Book Review
    Replies: 1
    Last Post: 07-10-2010, 12:56 AM
  4. one night
    By jim_pollock in forum Short Story Sharing
    Replies: 6
    Last Post: 09-01-2008, 05:20 PM
  5. Philip Roth
    By metal134 in forum General Literature
    Replies: 7
    Last Post: 10-29-2007, 01:34 PM

Tags for this Thread

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •