A critical evaluation of Philip Roth—the first of its kind—that takes on the man, the myth, and the work
Philip Roth is one of the most renowned writers of our time. From his debut, Goodbye, Columbus, which won the National Book Award in 1960, and the explosion of Portnoy's Complaint in 1969 to his haunting reimagining of Anne Frank's story in The Ghost Writer ten years later and the series of masterworks starting in the mid-eighties—The Counterlife, Patrimony, Operation Shylock, Sabbath's Theater, American Pastoral, The Human Stain—Roth has produced some of the great American literature of the modern era. And yet there has been no major critical work about him until now.
Here, at last, is the story of Roth's creative life. Roth Unbound is not a biography—though it contains a wealth of previously undisclosed biographical details and unpublished material—but something ultimately more rewarding: the exploration of a great writer through his art.
Claudia Roth Pierpont, a staff writer for The New Yorker, has known Roth for nearly a decade. Her carefully researched and gracefully written account is filled with remarks from Roth himself, drawn from their ongoing conversations. Here are insights and anecdotes that will change the way many readers perceive this most controversial and galvanizing writer: a young and unhappily married Roth struggling to write; a wildly successful Roth, after the uproar over Portnoy, working to help writers from Eastern Europe and to get their books known in the West; Roth responding to the early, Jewish—and the later, feminist—attacks on his work. Here are Roth's family, his inspirations, his critics, the full range of his fiction, and his friendships with such figures as Saul Bellow and John Updike. Here is Roth at work and at play.
Roth Unbound is a major achievement—a highly readable story that helps us make sense of one of the most vital literary careers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
In 2012, acclaimed novelist Philip Roth famously declared that he was retiring, sending shudders of disbelief through the literary world. Drawing on conversations with Roth and featuring insightful close readings of his entire oeuvre, longtime New Yorker staff writer Pierpont (Passionate Minds: Women Rewriting the World) offers a dazzling chronicle that traces moments from the author s life and explores the life of his art. Pierpont develops the story of Roth s writing chronologically, summarizing the plots and critical reception of each of his many novels, from Goodbye, Columbus (1959) to Nemesis (2010). For example, When She was Good is a book as harsh and plain as the world that Roth depicts.... Roth was no longer standing outside the Americans he d been observing... he was burrowing within them, even if only to discover a resistance to admitting depths. Pierpont declares Sabbath s Theater a masterpiece of twentieth-century American literature: coursing with life, dense with character and wisdom, it gives the deepest experiences we face dying, remembering, holding on to each other the startling impact of first knowledge. Exit Ghost is about the mystification between young and old, while Nemesis is about conscience and duty as much as it is about the randomness of fate. Her luminous and graceful study achieves what all good criticism should: it drives us to reread Roth s work anew.