The Facts: A Novelist's Autobiography

Overview

The Facts is the unconventional autobiography of a writer who has reshaped our idea of fiction—a work of compelling candor and inventiveness, instructive particularly in its revelation of the interplay between life and art.

Philip Roth concentrates on five episodes from his life: his secure city childhood in the thirties and forties; his education in American life at a conventional college; his passionate entanglement, as an ambitious young man, with the angriest person he ever ...

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The Facts: A Novelist's Autobiography

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Overview

The Facts is the unconventional autobiography of a writer who has reshaped our idea of fiction—a work of compelling candor and inventiveness, instructive particularly in its revelation of the interplay between life and art.

Philip Roth concentrates on five episodes from his life: his secure city childhood in the thirties and forties; his education in American life at a conventional college; his passionate entanglement, as an ambitious young man, with the angriest person he ever met (the "girl of my dreams" Roth calls her); his clash, as a fledgling writer, with a Jewish establishment outraged by Goodbye, Columbus; and his discovery, in the excesses of the sixties, of an unmined side to his talent that led him to write Portnoy's Complaint.

The book concludes surprisingly—in true Rothian fashion—with a sustained assault by the novelist against his proficiencies as an autobiographer.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The Facts is a lively and serious version of a novelist's life." —Thomas R. Edwards, New York Review of Books

"A fine account of the origins of Roth's fiction—Philip Roth continues to be the most vigorous and truthful of American writers." —Phyllis Rose, Newsday

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
By offering his memoirs plus a critique of same penned by his alter ego Nathan Zuckerman, Roth here undermines the autobiographical genre as he derailed fictional conventions in The Counterlife. Roth lays bare his private life or obscures the really juicy parts because, as Zuckerman says, autobiography may indeed be "the most manipulative of all literary forms." He also manages to beat those nasty book reviewers to the punch, because Zuckerman is the first to recognize that "this isn't you at your most interesting." Bathed here in a quasi-nostalgic glow, the writer's youth and college years are pretty tame; Roth is smart, loquacious but quite the good Jewish boy. The book becomes much more energetic and absorbing when Roth describes his self-destructive relationship with "Josie," a woman who bought a urine specimen from a pregnant black stranger in a park in order to bully Roth into marrying her which he does after insisting on an abortion, and whom Roth calls "the greatest creative-writing teacher of them all, specialist par excellence in the aesthetics of extremist fiction." Another unlikely font for his imagination was the Jewish community; the uproar over Goodbye, Columbus helped to fuel Portnoy's Complaint and the Zuckerman series. Despite their weaknesses, these reflections would stand even on their own as perspicacious insights by a past master of fiction on a writer's beginnings, quest for freedom and creative muses. With the Zuckerman add-on, the book becomes a unique demonstration of the superiority of fiction over autobiography as an uninhibited, introspective, self-confrontive form. Portions of the book previously appeared in the Atlantic, New York Times Book Review, and Vanity Fair. BOMC and QPBC selections. September
Library Journal
There is no doubt that Roth has secured a place for himself in American literary history, and this book will do nothing to jeopardize that place. Roth provides an anecdotal journey through five stages of his life: his New Jersey youth; his college days at Bucknell; meeting his wife-to-be while an instructor at the University of Chicago; his early writing days, including the uproar he caused in the Jewish community; and his life in the Sixties. Roth may have written "the facts," but they are not the complete facts. The work is episodic, sketchy, and sometimes self-indulgent as such books as this can be, but an offering from one like Roth belongs in libraries. John Budd, Graduate Lib. Sch., Univ. of Arizona, Tucson
Phyllis Rose
A fine account of the origins of Roth's fiction—Philip Roth continues to be the most vigorous and truthful of American writers.
Newsday
Publishers Weekly
Mel Foster turns in a flat and somewhat uninspired performance in this reading of Roth's autobiography, The Facts. Focusing on five episodes in his life, from his childhood in the 1930s to the publication of Portnoy's Complaint in the 1960s, Roth provides the listener with both details of his life and a criticism of those memoirs courtesy of his fictional alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman. Unfortunately, what could have been a fascinating audio exploration into the life of one of the most important authors of his generation is hampered by plodding narration with little intonation and less momentum. When Mel Foster is given the opportunity to lend a voice to one of the characters, his efforts are successful, accurate, and a thoroughly enjoyable. Sadly, these occasions are few and far between. A Vintage paperback. (May)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679749059
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/28/1997
  • Series: Vintage International Series
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 784,630
  • Product dimensions: 5.13 (w) x 7.96 (h) x 0.55 (d)

Meet the Author

Philip Roth
In 1997, Philip Roth won the Pulitzer Prize for AMERICAN PASTORAL. In 1998 he received the National Medal of Arts at the White House and in 2002 the highest award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Gold Medal in Fiction, previously awarded to John Dos Passos, William Faulkner, and Saul Bellow, among others. He has twice won the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He has won the PEN/Faulkner Award three times. In 2005 THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA received the Society of American Historians’ prize for “the outstanding historical novel on an American theme for 2003-2004.” Recently Roth received PEN’s two most prestigious prizes: in 2006 the PEN/Nabokov Award and in 2007 the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for achievement in American fiction. Roth is the only living American writer to have his work published in a comprehensive, definitive edition by the Library of America.

Biography

Philip Roth's long and celebrated career has been something of a thorn in the side of the writer. As it is for so many, fame has been the proverbial double-edged sword, bringing his trenchant tragic-comedies to a wide audience, but also making him a prisoner of expectations and perceptions. Still, since 1959, Roth has forged along, crafting gorgeous variations of the Great American Novel and producing, in addition, an autobiography (The Facts) and a non-fictional account of his father's death (Patrimony: A True Story).

Roth's novels have been oft characterized as "Jewish literature," a stifling distinction that irks Roth to no end. Having grown up in a Jewish household in a lower-middle-class sub-section of Newark, New Jersey, he is incessantly being asked where his seemingly autobiographical characters end and the author begins, another irritant for Roth. He approaches interviewers with an unsettling combination of stoicism, defensiveness, and black wit, qualities that are reflected in his work. For such a high-profile writer, Roth remains enigmatic, seeming to have laid his life out plainly in his writing, but refusing to specify who the real Philip Roth is.

Roth's debut Goodbye, Columbus instantly established him as a significant writer. This National Book Award winner was a curious compendium of a novella that explored class conflict and romantic relationships and five short stories. Here, fully formed in Roth's first outing, was his signature wit, his unflinching insightfulness, and his uncanny ability to satirize his character's situations while also presenting them with humanity. The only missing element of his early work was the outrageousness he would not begin to cultivate until his third full-length novel Portnoy's Complaint -- an unquestionably daring and funny post-sexual revolution comedy that tipped Roth over the line from critically acclaimed writer to literary celebrity.

Even as Roth's personal relationships and his relationship to writing were severely shaken following the success of Portnoy's Complaint, he continued publishing outrageous novels in the vein of his commercial breakthrough. There was Our Gang, a parodic attack on the Nixon administration, and The Breast, a truly bizarre take on Kafka's Metamorphosis, and My Life as a Man, the pivotal novel that introduced Roth's literary alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman.

Zuckerman would soon be the subject of his very own series, which followed the writer's journey from aspiring young artist with lofty goals to a bestselling author, constantly bombarded by idiotic questions, to a man whose most important relationships have all but crumbled in the wake of his success. The Zuckerman Trilogy (The Ghost Writer, Zuckerman Unbound, and The Counterlife) directly paralls Roth's career and unfolds with aching poignancy and unforgiving humor.

Zuckerman would later reemerge in another trilogy, although this time he would largely be relegated to the role of narrator. Roth's American Trilogy (I Married a Communist, the PEN/Faulkner Award winning The Human Stain, and The Plot Against America), shifts the focus to key moments in the history of late-20th –century American history.

In Everyman (2006) , Roth reaches further back into history. Taking its name from a line of 15th-century English allegorical plays, Everyman is classic Roth -- funny, tragic, and above all else, human. It is also yet another in a seemingly unbreakable line of critical favorites, praised by Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and The Library Journal.

In 2007's highly anticipated Exit Ghost, Roth returned Nathan Zuckerman to his native Manhattan for one final adventure, thus bringing to a rueful, satisfying conclusion one of the most acclaimed literary series of our day. While this may (or may not) be Zuckerman's swan song, it seems unlikely that we have seen the last Philip Roth. Long may he roar.

Good To Know

Before publishing his first novel, Roth wrote an episode of the suspenseful TV classic Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

A film adaptation of American Pastoral is currently in the works. Australian director Phillip Noyce (Rabbit Proof Fence; Patriot Games) is on board to direct.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Philip Milton Roth
    2. Hometown:
      Connecticut
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 19, 1933
    2. Place of Birth:
      Newark, New Jersey
    1. Education:
      B.A. in English, Bucknell University, 1954; M.A. in English, University of Chicago, 1955

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