Roth, whose sexually scandalous comic novel “Portnoy’s Complaint” brought him literary celebrity after its publication in 1969 and who was eventually hailed as one of America’s greatest living authors for the blunt force and controlled fury of his dozens of later works
.. His lifelong themes included sex and desire, health and mortality, and Jewishness and its obligations — arguably his most definitive subject
.. He could write about these international issues because he was truly cosmopolitan, a global citizen who was grounded by American culture.”
.. A 2006 survey by the New York Times Book Review of the best books since 1981 found an astonishing six of Mr. Roth’s novels among the top 22.
.. “Going wild in public is the last thing in the world that a Jew is expected to do.”
.. In 1962, Mr. Roth shared a panel with “Invisible Man” author Ralph Ellison and Italian novelist Pietro di Donato during a symposium at Yeshiva University. Again he was denounced by questioners who thought he was undermining Jews. Mr. Roth later recycled the incident in “The Ghost Writer,”
.. it also won praise from prominent reviewers for being playful and moving, a masterpiece on guilt.
.. “Nathan Zuckerman is an act. Making fake biography, false history, concocting a half-imaginary existence out of the actual drama of my life is my life. There has to be some pleasure in this job, and that’s it. To go around in disguise. To act a character. To pass oneself off as what one is not. To pretend. The sly and cunning masquerade.”
.. In her book, Bloom draws herself as caged by an often wrathful Mr. Roth, describing his emotional gamesmanship as “Machiavellian.”
“Philip’s novels provided all one needed to know about his relationships with women,” Bloom wrote, “most of which had been just short of catastrophic.”
.. Mr. Roth’s powerful, probing, mocking literary voice largely failed to translate in Hollywood
.. “He goes on and on about the same subject in almost every single book,” Callil said. “It’s as though he’s sitting on your face and you can’t breathe.”
.. Yet when Mr. Roth announced his retirement in 2012, it was soon revealed that the author was cooperating with biographer Blake Bailey.
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.