Where Is Philip Roth Now?

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Over a recent period of less than five years, Philip Roth published, in rapid succession, five relatively short novels. In both their brevity and in the rapidity of their production, these novels initiate collisions in a world spinning out of control. With the publication of Everyman in 2006, Exit Ghost in 2007, Indignation in 2008, The Humbling in 2009, and Nemesis in 2010, Roth carries us, in a breathless, headlong rush, to what might be described as the center of the maelstrom, the epicenter of confusion, infuriation, havoc, defeat, and, indeed, indignation. At the heart of such pandemonium remains the protracted desire to live the Rothian trope of the counterlife, a fantasy that has stalked Roth's restless characters ever since Goodbye, Columbus. These are characters whose self-fashioning takes an uneven, erratically fraught trajectory. We see Roth move them from the largely unsuccessful attempts at imagining themselves as other than Jews as they hasten into an ascending middle-class American life, to reinventing themselves back into Jews, only to shed that ill-fitting attire once again as self-consciously as Eli Peck dons the black-clothed, orthodox garb of his adversarial double or as Henry Zuckerman remakes himself as Hanoch in Israel. Thus Roth's fiction will usually give us an exercise in escape, or as Nathan Zuckerman puts it, "an exchange of existences," not unlike "after a great war, the exchange of prisoners," momentarily scuttling from one uncertain, seized-upon life into another (The Counterlife 156). These five novels published in the new millennium are fitting for an aging Roth, because they show the consequences of the thwarted desire to live out counterlives, wishful yearnings of characters who imagine themselves living other lives, other selves...




Pennsylvania State University Press


University Park, PA

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Studies in American Jewish Literature

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