Though Nathan Zuckerman, the protagonist of "Zuckerman unbound" by Philip Roth, specifically denies the role autobiography plays in his novel 'Carnovsky', it is hard not to see this book as a commentary on the fame Roth received after the publication of "Portnoy's Complaint". Fame, and its attendant danger, affect on family, frustrations, inconvenience, benefits, ego-stroking and inevitable decline, is certainly a major theme of this work, and plays out not only in Zuckerman's life, but in the lives of Ceasara, the beautiful actress with whom Zuckerman becomes enamored, and Alvin Pepler, the somewhat crazed, formerly famous quiz show contestant who was on the wrong end of a game-fixing scandal and is presently stalking Zuckerman.
We follow Zuckerman as he navigates the landscape of his sudden success, falls into infatuation, attempts to win back his wife, copes with the death of his father (which is a key element of the unbinding of the title), and mostly ignores the exhortations of his agent. Most of the story consists of outstanding dialogue, interspersed with clever explication. The quality of the writing turns what could have been a whinefest into a funny and entertaining slice of a life most of us will never know.
This is the middle book of a trilogy, and as such, felt incomplete. Although I had no trouble following it, I do wish I'd read them in order. This was my first foray into Roth's writing, having avoided it because of the sensationalism which surrounded Portnoy's Complaint. But when I found 5 of his works at a recent book sale for a quarter apiece I decided to take a chance. And I am glad I did! I had no idea what a great writer he actually was. Now I'll be on the lookout for "Ghost Writer" and "Anatomy Lesson", the first and third books in this trilogy. 4 stars, but only because it was somewhat lacking in depth, and because, due to my own mistake of reading it by itself, it felt unfinished.
When the renowned aviation hero and rabid isolationist Charles A. Lindbergh defeated Franklin Roosevelt by a landslide in the 1940 presidential election, fear invaded every Jewish household in America. Not only had Lindbergh, in a nationwide radio address, publicly blamed the Jews for selﬁshly pushing America toward a pointless war with Nazi Germany, but upon taking ofﬁce as the thirty-third president of the United States, he negotiated a cordial "understanding" with Adolf Hitler, whose conquest of Europe and virulent anti-Semitic policies he appeared to accept without difﬁculty. What then followed in America is the historical setting for this startling new book by Pulitzer Prize–winner Philip Roth, who recounts what it was like for his Newark family — and for a million such families all over the country — during the menacing years of the Lindbergh presidency, when American citizens who happened to be Jews had every reason to expect the worst.
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Originally Posted by Flingo
We wondered if you have to Jewish to appreciate it? [Howard Jacobson's novels].
Sorry, can't say. Never read one. It would make him the English Philip Roth if its true.
Well, I have tried to read several and failed each time so the Jewish test doesn't hold up for me. And I'm from Manchester, same as him. Definitely NOT the English Philip Roth in my book!
Male and Jewish might do the trick. However, how many books did you say you had on your TBR shelves, G? I would read them all first.
I'm trying, but there's just so much I want to read, and I have a congenital inability to walk past a bookshop without entering it!
My Mum's family are all Mancunian, and much more orthodox and religious than I am, plus I went to uni there, so I have some understanding what the city's Jewish community is like.
From what I know, I believe Jacobson is generally regarded as a humorous writer, which Roth largely is not. What I meant is from the Roth I've read (which includes "Everyman", one of my favourite reads this year) his sensibilities are very Jewish, even if his characters aren't, and I can see how this might alienate non-Jewish readers.
However, your point about being male might actually be the key one, certainly in Roth's case.
Oh, but Roth is my favourite writer by a mile at the moment, so none of this analysis holds up! I love Bellow, too. But not Jacobson.
LOL. I can't abide Bellow, so what do I know??
Perhaps this isn't the best place, but could you give me a few recommendations. I've only read The Human Stain and The Plot Against America, but I really enjoyed both of them. I'm holding off on American Pastoral for now as I usually like to read what's being touted as any author's magnus opus until after I've read most of their others first. Seeing as I'm in Taiwan, and Roth doesn't release his novels as ebooks, I'm limited in my selection. I think my local bookstores have My Life as a Man and I Married a Communist (I'd have to go up to Taipei for any others). Have you read either of them? How are they? How do they rank in his oeuvre.
SlowRain, I haven't read My Life as a Man and have not seen it recommended as one of his better books. I did read I Married a Communist and wouldn't rate that a one of his best, but you might like it if you enjoyed The Human Stain and it is generally seen as part of a trilogy with American Pastoral.
The best one to start with would be Portnoy's Complaint as long as you don't have a delicate stomach and do have a sense of humour! I loved Goodbye Columbus when I read it many years ago but it may seem dated now and its probably out of print. Try the Zuckerman trilogy The Ghost Writer, Zuckerman Unbound and The Anatomy Lesson. However, I would plunge right in to American Pastoral after the early books because it is Roth at his magnificant best. Reading that it gets you on to his wavelength and then the other books become immediately more accessible. If you are interested in the concept of mortality then Everyman is marvellous, though I'm not sure how much this book will speak to the younger reader. It was preceded by The Dying Animal which also contains some fine writing.
Hope this helps!
I've read the first two of the Zuckerman trilogy along with the latest Exit Ghost - see my blog - and am looking forward to The Anatomy Lesson and other Zuckermans like The Counterlife which I have in my TBR pile. I used to hate Roth, or at least not get him, and I must admit it was American Pastoral which won me over completely. SlowRain, there's always the danger if you keep putting it off that it will gain such high expectations in your mind that it's bound to disappoint!
It started badly - a fortnight to read 70 pages, a couple of pages a night and long gaps inbetween. No wonder I couldn't get to grips with it, nor figure out which 'he' was being referred to.
Do not do this, it's only a short book, and could be polished off on a long train journey. I certainly found it more accessible when I finished the remaining 100+ pages in two sittings.
I might even have enjoyed it, had I read it in my 30s, but I'm afraid that the central character's encounter with the increasing decrepitude of his advancing years chimed too resonantly with my current experiences. I found it just too depressing.
However, there are far worse ways of going than Roth plots for his hero.
This novella, published in 2001, is a tale told by one of Roth's regular characters, David Kepesh, a New York City professor and TV cultural commentator. Previously in "The Breast" and "The Professor of Desire", Kepesh is now seventy.
Although he married young, he quickly divorced and has been single since, sleeping with a succession of students throughout his life, some of them for many years after they have graduated. Kepesh's justification for his lifestyle is the sexual revolution of the 1960s which, he argues, was what liberated women to sleep with him, not the other way around.
At the age of 62, he meets Consuela Castillo, the 24 year old daughter of wealthy Cuban immigrant parents. Although chiefly driven by lust as usual, Kepesh also experiences feelings he's never had before and he's thrown into depression when their relationship ends.
Kepesh is, despite all his bluster, basically a dirty old man, although that's no surprise in a late Roth protaginist. He's a difficult character to sympathise with - he seems to have a good life but is still not happy. However, the pat solution (a family) would probably feel to him like a trap.
There's an awkward diversion into a meditation on mortality caused by the death of a close friend that seems tacked on, unconvincing and doesn't add to the main thrust of the story. Roth explores this latter topic far more thoroughly and eloquently in "Everyman".
Despite being as eloquent as the three previous novels of his I've read, this seems to me to be minor Roth.