Through consummate art, Roth elevates the links that bind his protagonist to us, the readers who judge his life. From a distance, Everyman looks like a shaggy dog story -- a long, quotidian story whose meaning resides in its final pointlessness. Up close, though, it is a parable that captures, as few works of fiction have, the pathos of Being, as it's manifested even in the favored precincts of affluent America.
The Washington Post
What is it about Philip Roth? He has published 27 books, almost all of which deal with the same topics-Jewishness, Americanness, sex, aging, family-and yet each is simultaneously familiar and new. His latest novel is a slim but dense volume about a sickly boy who grows up obsessed with his and everybody else's health, and eventually dies in his 70s, just as he always said he would. (I'm not giving anything away here; the story begins with the hero's funeral.) It might remind you of the old joke about the hypochondriac who ordered his tombstone to read: "I told you I was sick." And yet, despite its coy title, the book is both universal and very, very specific, and Roth watchers will not be able to stop themselves from comparing the hero to Roth himself. (In most of his books, whether written in the third person or the first, a main character is a tortured Jewish guy from Newark-like Roth.) The unnamed hero here is a thrice-married adman, a father and a philanderer, a 70-something who spends his last days lamenting his lost prowess (physical and sexual), envying his healthy and beloved older brother, and refusing to apologize for his many years of bad behavior, although he palpably regrets them. Surely some wiseacre critic will note that he is Portnoy all grown up, an amalgamation of all the womanizing, sex- and death-obsessed characters Roth has written about (and been?) throughout his career. But to obsess about the parallels between author and character is to miss the point: like all of Roth's works, even the lesser ones, this is an artful yet surprisingly readable treatise on... well, on being human and struggling and aging at the beginning of the new century. It also borrows devices from his previous works-there's a sequence about a gravedigger that's reminiscent of the glove-making passages in American Pastoral, and many observations will remind careful readers of both Patrimony and The Dying Animal-and through it all, there's that Rothian voice: pained, angry, arrogant and deeply, wryly funny. Nothing escapes him, not even his own self-seriousness. "Amateurs look for inspiration; the rest of us just get up and go to work," he has his adman-turned-art-teacher opine about an annoying student. Obviously, Roth himself is a professional. (May 5) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Much like John Updike's Harry Angstrom, the protagonist of Roth's new novel confronts the loneliness of growing old, despair over the loss of his sexual vitality, and anguish over how he has shattered the lives of those who love him. Using a splendidly unique narrative technique, our hero recounts his boyhood vigor (he swam for miles every day off the Jersey Shore), energetic sexual life (three marriages and countless affairs), affection for his daughter, and visceral shock at his body's rapid decay. Once he reaches middle age, his body begins to break down, and soon his life is measured out in yearly cuts and scrapes of the surgeon's knife. After one operation, he moves from Manhattan to a retirement community near the Jersey Shore, where his sense of alienation grows ever stronger. As the palpable pain of loneliness creeps into his bones, Roth's "Everyman" muses over his role in bringing this loss on himself ("he had completed the decomposition of his original family; decomposing families was his specialty") and poignantly declares that "old age isn't a battle; old age is a massacre." This brilliant little morality play on the ways that our bodies dictate the paths our lives take is vintage Roth; essential for every fiction collection. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 1/06.]-Henry L. Carrigan Jr., Lancaster, PA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Roth follows his recent succession of critically acclaimed novels (e.g., American Pastoral, 1997; The Plot Against America, 2004) with a compact meditation on mortality, which partially echoes his 1991 memoir-novel Patrimony. Inspired by the medieval English allegorical drama whose title it shares, it's the story of an erring, death-haunted representative man (never named). It begins as his departed spirit observes his own funeral, then weaves backward and forward throughout his past life, envisioned as inevitable progression from virile youth through morally compromised adulthood and middle age, into "his sixties when his health began giving way and his body seemed threatened all the time," and beyond-into the beyond. This Everyman grows up in Elizabeth, N.J., the son of a benevolent and prosperous jeweler, further blessed by a doting mother and a tirelessly kind and supportive "perfect" older brother. He enjoys a successful career as an advertising agency's art director, but fails at marriage (losing three wives, as he pursues countless other women), and is almost as disastrous a parent, suffering permanent estrangement from the two sons of his first marriage, but achieving a sustaining relationship with daughter (from his second marriage) Nancy, whose patient filial devotion interestingly parallels that of the medieval Everyman's character Good Deeds, who accompanies the title character into the realm of Death. This risky novel is significantly marred by redundancy and discursiveness (especially by a surfeit of rhetorical questions), but energized by vivid writing, palpable emotional intensity and several wrenching scenes-for example, encounters in the painting class that he (anamateur artist) organizes for other seniors at his retirement village; a blistering exchange with second wife Phoebe, long aware of his womanizing; a wonderful conversation with a black gravedigger at the cemetery where his parents are buried, where he'll soon be buried. A rich exploration of the epiphany that awaits us all-that "life's most disturbing intensity is death."
"Our most accomplished novelist. . . . [With Everyman] personal tenderness has reached a new intensity."
—The New Yorker
“If descriptive amplitude went out with the nineteenth century, Philip Roth, who strides the whole time and territory of the word, has resuscitated it – in description revved with the power of narrative itself.”
—The New York Times Book Review
"Let's use a noun I've never used before: masterpiece."
“[Roth is] as essential to the experience of modern America–its literature, history, and moral reckoning–as any writer on the planet.”
—The Boston Globe