New York Times Bestseller
The renowned biographer’s definitive portrait of a literary titan.
Appointed by Philip Roth and granted independence and complete access, Blake Bailey spent years poring over Roth’s personal archive, interviewing his friends, lovers, and colleagues, and engaging Roth himself in breathtakingly candid conversations. The result is an indelible portrait of an American master and of the postwar literary scene.
Bailey shows how Roth emerged from a lower-middle-class Jewish milieu to achieve the heights of literary fame, how his career was nearly derailed by his catastrophic first marriage, and how he championed the work of dissident novelists behind the Iron Curtain.
Bailey examines Roth’s rivalrous friendships with Saul Bellow, John Updike, and William Styron, and reveals the truths of his florid love life, culminating in his almost-twenty-year relationship with actress Claire Bloom, who pilloried Roth in her 1996 memoir, Leaving a Doll’s House.
Tracing Roth’s path from realism to farce to metafiction to the tragic masterpieces of the American Trilogy, Bailey explores Roth’s engagement with nearly every aspect of postwar American culture.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Novelist Philip Roth made it his goal to “let the repellent in”—to write truthfully about anything shameful, taboo, or horrifying. His shocking 1969 comedy Portnoy’s Complaint comes to mind first, but Blake Bailey’s exhaustive authorized biography applies that statement to Roth’s entire half-century-plus career. Bailey also goes deep on Roth’s fraught personal life, beginning with his childhood as the son of Jewish immigrants in Depression-era Newark, New Jersey. From his genuinely horrific first marriage to his merely tempestuous second, Roth’s romantic history displays just about every possible way that people can behave poorly in relationships. Meanwhile, the tales of Roth’s friendships and feuds with contemporaries like John Updike and Norman Mailer (who literally challenged Roth to a duel in the early ‘70s) are deliciously gossipy, and the portrait of his third act as an inventive chronicler of 20th-century life in classics like the Pulitzer Prize–winning American Pastoral made us want to dive back into those books. A genuinely fascinating literary biography, Philip Roth is as tragic, laugh-out-loud funny, and strange as one of Roth’s own novels.
Biographer Bailey (Cheever) brings his talents to bear in this remarkable portrait of lauded and divisive literary titan Philip Roth (1933 2018). Roth was born in Newark, N.J., in "perhaps the most anti-Semitic decade in American history" and was, according to his father, "an all-American boy who loved baseball." The Roth that Bailey brings to life is a complex mix of confidence and self-doubt; Roth became the youngest winner of the National Book Award and, Bailey writes, questioned "the whole concept of what a novel was, or what he himself was supposed to be as a writer." Bailey tirelessly unpacks the real-life inspirations behind Roth's fiction, shedding light on an early girlfriend who inspired Brenda Patimkin in his 1959 debut Goodbye, Columbus and the romantic fling who became a character 30 years later in The Human Stain. Bailey doesn't shy away from Roth's dark side, notably his self-involved nature and tendency to let "old griefs and resentments fester." In consistently luminous, humorous prose, Bailey vividly evokes Roth as a writer and a man Roth would, for example, spend "the odd weekend" in 1964 with his girlfriend, and "by Sunday afternoons... would be almost beside himself: You have to leave now! I have to work!' " A stunning feat, this is as dynamic and gripping as any of Roth's own fictions. Photos. Agent: Shane Salerno.