Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Philip Roth's Exit Ghost

This book is so good I can barely stand it. Roth is simply a master, and I'd feel like a fool if I pretended to engage in "serious criticism" of his work -- his work is the most serious criticism of all. For example, a character writes in a letter to the New York Times:
The way in which serious fiction eludes paraphrase and description -- hence requiring thought -- is a nuisance to your cultural journalist. Only its imagined sources are to be taken seriously, only that fiction, the lazy journalist's fiction...
And a bit later on in the same letter:
If I had something like Stalin's power, I would not squander it on silencing the imaginative writers. I would silence those who write about the imaginative writers... I'd outlaw reading groups and Internet book chatter, and police the bookstores to be certain that no clerk ever spoke to a customer about a book ... I'd do this for as many centuries as are required to detoxify the society of your poisonous nonsense.
Heh heh.

Reading Roth's prose is like drinking clear water after a lifetime of Tab and box wine. It feels like the only acceptable prose: completely truthful, insistently intelligent, and devoid of lyricism and posturing. This is the last Zuckerman book, and when Roth goes, something really big will have ended. And we won't know what that is until we see what comes next.

9 comments:

moonlight ambulette said...

hm.
What am I missing? There are so many writers I know I'm supposed to enjoy that I just really, really don't. Roth, Updike, etc.
Maybe I'll understand when I grow up?

rmellis said...

Never, NEVER put Roth and Updike in the same sentence!!!!

I never liked Roth until I read American Pastoral. Before that I got hung up on the boring lust stuff. Then Zuckerman became impotent, and it all got much more interesting... The Human Stain won me over for good.

5 Red Pandas said...

What would you suggest as a good entry point for Roth? I've only read excerpts of his work.

ed said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ed said...

I didn't get Roth until American Pastoral either, and only read it after John and Rhian kept mentioning it, and then I read everything Roth I could find (easy to find, it turns out). In addition to American Pastoral, a good entry is The Ghostwriter from the early seventies, a very short book & the first Zuckerman (I think).

jonathan said...

I disliked The Human Stain quite a bit (that ridiculous plot twist involving e-mail felt like an old guy trying to fit into hipster clothes), and didn't care much for Operation Shylock. Portnoy's Complaint is still one of my favourite American novels ever, though. Roth's hit and miss for me, but when he's good he's very, very good. Updike, on the other hand, in my experience, is all miss.

Anonymous said...

I second the recommendation of "The Ghost Writer." And it is obviously an appropriate warm-up for the new book.

moonlight ambulette said...

ok! Fine. The Ghostwriter and American Pastoral, on the to-be-read list.
You all better be right... < shaking fist warningly >

James Marcus said...

I'd agree that The Ghost Writer is an excellent point of entry. If you prefer Roth in a nonfictional mood (a very slippery phrase in his case), go for Patrimony, which I must have read a good half-dozen times. Finally: Exit Ghost is a terrible disappointment. Just awful. And I'll put in a defensive word for Updike. When he's good (as he is in the Rabbit books, for example, and in tons of the criticism) he can't be beat.