Her mass-market success is clearly still a little disorienting. “Light and sparkling is the phrase that has been used,” she said. “I can’t complain if people think it’s sparkling, but then there’s a sense that wasn’t what I set out to do.”
.. She found her tribe as a competitive debater — at 22, she was the top debater in Europe — and settled into what she would later describe as “an analytic way of living.”
.. They are battered, as well, by economic conditions. The 2008 financial crash, and its catastrophic effect on Ireland’s young people, hangs like an invisible backdrop to all of Ms. Rooney’s fiction. Her own friends, after receiving prestigious degrees, took retail jobs, or went on welfare, scrambling to pay exorbitant Dublin rents.
“In my parents’ generation, or even before that, people who are in their 30s or 40s, you’d go to college and it was easier to get a job in one of the big law firms, and you’ll be set up — you’ll be able to get a mortgage,” said Ms. Rooney’s partner, John Prasifka, 25, a high school math teacher. “Our generation is seeing that’s not worked out for us.”
Earlier generations may have naturally shed their leftist beliefs as they lofted into the middle class, he added. But with their cohort, he said, it is difficult to see that happening.
.. For 10 years, Ms. Rooney has delighted in Twitter, trafficking in cerebral self-mockery (“♫ getting into lengthy Facebook wars about Greek debt / using words like “creditors” and “Eurogroup” in my actual free time / why ♫”); earnest declarations (“the Irish state has always been organized on the unpaid labor of women”); and too-cool-for-school banter (“this New Statesman piece from last year is so bad I laughed until I literally wept.”) Ms. Rooney even gave her character Frances, in “Conversation With Friends,” a “Twitter voice,” which she described as “a tone of casual self-revelation that deprives others of the ability to criticize.”
.. During an interview in Dublin, she worried aloud that novelists are over-glamorized, and said newspapers should write more profiles of nurses or bus drivers.
no joining of forces is more difficult to fathom than the partnership between two writers. Writing, like dying, is one of those things that should be done alone or not at all.
.. John Fletcher, a popular and gifted playwright, once hooked up with some old slacker named Shakespeare to bring us “Henry VIII,” which was first performed in 1613, and linguistic analysis can propose, scene by scene, who delivered which slices of the cake.
Only after becoming a novelist myself did I understand my discomfort. Philip Roth is celebrated for bringing my family’s tiny slice of the world into the American pantheon, widening the literary canon to include American Jews. It is hardly news to point out that he accomplished this feat at the expense of Jewish women.
.. Roth’s three favorite topics — Jews, women and New Jersey — all remain socially acceptable targets of irrational public mockery, and Roth was a virtuoso at mocking the combination of all three.
.. The problem is literary: these caricatures reveal a lack of not only empathy, but curiosity.
.. Shakespeare bothered to give the hated Jewish moneylender Shylock a point of view; Mark Twain bothered to imagine emotions for the runaway slave Jim. Both portrayals still reflected popular prejudice, often horribly so. But they also included a glimmer of humanity beyond it, revealing the artists’ curiosity about lives they could only imagine.
.. His strength lay in those brilliantly rendered characters and voices like his. His weakness was that those voices denigrated just about everyone else.
.. how many of these women are, after all, precisely the people who made Philip Roth’s success possible. The Jewish New Jersey women I know are talented professionals in every field, and often in those two thankless professions that Roth quite likely required to thrive: teachers and therapists.
.. literature means little; the shared humanity that great literature inspires matters even less. What endures, sadly, is Roth’s lack of imagination, the unempathetic and incurious caricaturing of others that he turned into a virtue — and which now defines much of American public life.
.. we’re still talking about Roth, just like his works taught us to do. Yet in the years to come, the real meaning of his work will emerge not in how we judge Roth, but in how we judge ourselves.