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Roth thus presents his characters as figures bearing the very seductive possibility of a "multitude of realities." Disenchanted with a worn-out, dampened, banal, and diminished life, one can slip into another, "an exchange of existences," as the wily Zuckerman says. But, in changing those distasteful and objectionable aspects of one's existence, one would do well to caution against the intemperate, impulsive desire, the head-long rush to "change everything," as Zuckerman chastises his brother Henry (Counterlife 156; italics in original). In other words, one would do well to show some restraint, as Roth's characters more often than not humorously fail to do, only too late recognizing, as does the narrator of Indignation, that even "the tiniest, littlest things do have tragic consequences" (14). One cannot, finally, walk out of one life into another without fallout, without, that is, the inevitable repercussions for the treachery and betrayals teeming around individual action. For Roth, however, the trick, the sleight-of-hand, is the agility of pretense, to "pretend to be anything we want. All it takes is impersonation," which as Zuckerman promises, "is like saying that it takes only courage" (Counterlife 367). Roth's characters often struggle with questions of what knowledge to retain...

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Purdue University Press

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Philip Roth Studies