Philip Roth: A Counterlife

Ira Nadel. Oxford Univ, $29.95 (568p) ISBN 978-019-984610-8
In this comprehensive compendium, Nadel (Leon Uris), an English professor at the University of British Columbia, focuses on the “anti-myth” of novelist Philip Roth (1933–2018). Using archives, interviews, and readings, Nadel shows Roth as the “epitome of the comedy of unhappiness” to reveal what was behind his public persona. Nadel finds the roots of Roth’s bitterness in a lifelong sense of abandonment beginning with his childhood in Newark, N.J., and an adulthood marked by strife-filled marriages and affairs. He details Roth’s “aggression, discontent, and anger” and a narcissism that functioned “as a defense against anxiety,” and reveals how Roth “torpedoed” friendships with agents, editors, publishers, and other writers over criticism. Characters such as Alexander Portnoy and Nathan Zuckerman gave Roth the “license to transform biography into fiction,” Nadel writes, and his blistering exposé of the “biographical roots and evolution of Roth’s... need for control” is demonstrated with lucid interpretations of Roth’s work, including the “oracle-like mother” in Portnoy’s Complaint (1969) and the “socially destructive space” of American Pastoral (1997), as well as early works, such as a 200-page experimental story titled “The Jewboy.” An unrestrained portrait of an irascible figure, Nadel’s account is an enlightening addition to the understanding of a major American writer. (Mar.)
Reviewed on : 01/06/2021
Release date: 03/01/2021
Genre: Nonfiction
Digital Format - 978-0-19-751445-0
Ebook - 978-0-19-065676-8
Ebook - 978-0-19-984611-5
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