cover image The Factsria

The Factsria

Philip Roth. Farrar Straus Giroux, $17.95 (208pp) ISBN 978-0-374-15212-3

By offering his memoirs plus a critique of same penned by his alter ego Nathan Zuckerman, Roth here undermines the autobiographical genre as he derailed fictional conventions in The Counterlife. Roth lays bare his private lifeor obscures the really juicy parts because, as Zuckerman says, autobiography may indeed be ``the most manipulative of all literary forms.'' He also manages to beat those nasty book reviewers to the punch, because Zuckerman is the first to recognize that ``this isn't you at your most interesting.'' Bathed here in a quasi-nostalgic glow, the writer's youth and college years are pretty tame; Roth is smart, loquacious but quite the good Jewish boy. The book becomes much more energetic and absorbing when Roth describes his self-destructive relationship with ``Josie,'' a woman who bought a urine specimen from a pregnant black stranger in a park in order to bully Roth into marrying her (which he does after insisting on an abortion), and whom Roth calls ``the greatest creative-writing teacher of them all, specialist par excellence in the aesthetics of extremist fiction.'' Another unlikely font for his imagination was the Jewish community; the uproar over Goodbye, Columbus helped to fuel Portnoy's Complaint and the Zuckerman series. Despite their weaknesses, these reflections would stand even on their own as perspicacious insights by a past master of fiction on a writer's beginnings, quest for freedom and creative muses. With the Zuckerman add-on, the book becomes a unique demonstration of the superiority of fiction over autobiography as an uninhibited, introspective, self-confrontive form. Portions of the book previously appeared in the Atlantic , New York Times Book Review and Vanity Fair. BOMC and QPBC selections. (September)