Friday, April 2, 2010

Philip Roth Again

Because he writes too well, and too close to home to not be heard from. The Counterlife in particular takes place mostly in my hometown, while his other books take place in and around Newark, in the era of the Newark Jews; my dad's family that I only know from his sporadic stories. Despite the obvious huge generation gap between me and Philip Roth, the anxieties about secular Judaism, about New Jersey, about what those things mean for one's identity are all, to varying extents, huge parts of my life, and I'm glad someone writes about them as well as he does. After reading American Pastoral, all I wanted to do was write, because if I could write a sentence even a quarter as good as some of the sentences in there I would be happy. I wouldn't necessarily say his books are for everyone; the religion, place, and family influence are obviously a lot of the reason why I like him. But I highly recommend his books to anyone, anyway.

"Henry remembered that after the lecture, during the question period, Nathan had been asked by a student if he wrote 'in quest of immortality.' He could hear Nathan laughing and giving the answer...'If you're from New Jersey,' Nathan had said, 'and you write thirty books and you win the Nobel Prize, and you live to be white-haired and ninety-five, it's highly unlikely but not impossible that after your death they'll decide to name a rest stop for you on the Jersey Turnpike. And so, long as you're gone, you may indeed be remembered, but mostly by small children, in the backs of cars, when they lean forward and tell their parents, 'Stop, please, stop at Zuckerman - I have to make a pee.' For a New Jersey novelist that's as much immortality as it's realistic to hope for.'"

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