In Nemesis (2010) the misguided attempts to create and to live an anxiously figured counterlife turn catasttophic as Roth's Bucky Cantor, the Jewish warrior of the Weequahic playgrounds, attempts to step out of his life and reinvent himself Here the art of impersonation is shown to be an impossible failure. For the deluded Bucky Cantor is inevitably stticken, not only with polio, but with the illusion that he can walk out of^ one life—the life bequeathed to him—and inhabit the lives of others. Roth shows the desire to live out the counterlife to be the ultimate self-delusion, exposing instead, as Zuckerman long ago suspected, the tragic certainty that, instead of the wishful fabrication of "turning what-was into what-wasn't or what-might-be into what-was—there was only the deadly earnest this-is-it of v/hat-is." In Nemesis Roth reveals the tragic impossibility of self-reinvention, exposing the ways in which his ill-fated protagonist is an heir to history in the making. Roth's Newark becomes the metaphorical point of connection of two menacing historical events: the devastating outbreak of polio running rampant throughout the city and the heightening peril of the Nazi assault on Europe's Jews. The language of the one evokes the reality of the other, the war haunting the course of the polio epidemic, an analogy exacerbated by palpably reactive American anti-Semitism.
“Expelled Once Again: The Fantasy of Living the Counterlife in Roth’s Nemesis.” Philip Roth Studies, Special Issue. Guest editor, Pia Masiero, 9.1 (Spring 2013): 51-63.
Philip Roth Studies