Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Philip Roth

Of course I read Portnoy’s Complaint. In fact, I smuggled a copy of it into Ms. Ferrante’s seventh grade homeroom and shared some of the naughty bits with my classmates—even though I’m not sure I understood the part where Alex has sex with his family’s liver dinner, it seemed funny at the time (and still does!)

And I think I recall perusing The Great American Novel, (probably in hopes of getting some tips for my own aspirations), but it didn’t really sink in.

I’ve read Goodbye, Columbus at least twice, although I think the movie with Richard Benjamin stuck with me more forcefully.

And I’m pretty sure I made it through The Breast, but I may be confusing that with the Woody Allen adaptation of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask.

So, naturally, I’m aware of Roth’s acclaim, but I don’t think I really got how great he is until just now—or make that yesterday—when I finished The Human Stain, his masterpiece about many things—identity politics, academia, love, death, sex, and war, aging, Vietnam, Viagra, and probably hope, desire, life, family, history, and politics, too.

If one of the marks of a great book is that it teaches you things without being pedantic, makes you feel powerful emotions without being maudlin, and keeps you turning the pages without relying on cheap tricks, then there’s no question that The Human Stain is a great book.

It also got inside my head in strange ways, compelling me to act out just a little bit in the admirably sociopathic manner of its main character, Coleman Silk.

The only complaint I might have about the book is the somewhat stereotypical post-traumatic stressed Vietnam vet character that Roth uses to effect the novel’s denouement, but he manages to pull it off without going all Stephen King on us.

So now, I’m reading Letting Go, and already, I can’t put it down.


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