For those of us who were spared by fate and vaccine, Philip Roth's Nemesis charts polio's course and brings to mind the friends and neighbors who suffered the withering and the life-long incarceration of limbs.
It seems that the examples of James and Dencombe were not enough to sustain Roth, who found the anxiety of writing such a burden that he experienced enormous relief when he announced his decision to retire as a novelist.
Set against the backdrop of World War II, human limitation forms the moral framework of Nemesis, as personified in its protagonist, Bucky Cantor, an upright, young playground director in Weequahic.
For many people around the globe books are alive, they are collected, cherished and contemplated periodically with love. They are milestones that punctuate one's emotional and social life.
"It struck me that the period beginning with the First World War and ending with the fall of the Berlin wall was the period to write about. I realized it needed to be three books, each one based on a different war."
Have you ever considered what would happen if the United States was really invaded? 9/11 was a terrorist attack but there was no follow up.
That's what writing a novel is like. No matter the precautions and preparation, dangers abound. The game is rigged; the odds of success and survival are not good. MFA vs. NYC? Yeah, sure, exactly. Whatever it takes, however you get there, and everything in between.
Roth's reading brought tears to anyone who has buried someone beloved. Yet what flowed from it was nowise morbid or even poetically elegiac. Nostalgic, yes, for the eighty years just past, but realistic about them too -- and above all historic.
For mystery, suspense and thriller novels, viewing the plot as "(almost) irrelevant" seems an extraordinary stretch. Frankly, I find that conclusion preposterous.
For Pierpont, Roth Unbound looks back to Roth's writing life. It "is fundamentally an examination of Roth's development as a writer, considering his themes, his thoughts, and his language. By necessity, it covers an enormous span."
No matter how beautifully written or "literary," a novel resonates deeply because the storyline tugs powerfully at us. It upsets, confounds and presents chaos, conflict, imbalance and upheaval -- either within its character's mind or circumstances.
Some of the Philip Roth's novels had more importance in my narrative -- and in my life -- than others. I'll try to list five of them. And I will not affirm that they are the best ones written by Mr. Roth, who wrote several masterpieces.
European and Middle Eastern countries are often bounded by hostile neighbors. The Battle of Britain was a turning point in the Second World War. Yet ...
A writer's life cut short -- Keats, Marlowe, the Brontës -- haunts literary history, and the writer's fear of dying prematurely, before fulfilling his potential, once made for some of the West's finest writing. How fittingly modern, then, that writers nowadays could, in effect, live too long.
This summer, without a Roth novel to confront for the very first time, I have returned repeatedly to his collaboration with Christopher Sykes: Web of Stories, a series of interviews in which Mr. Roth talks about his childhood, his influences, the ideas for his novels, and his life as a writer.
The documentary is not intended to "unmask" Philip Roth in the sense that you learn every possible thing about him. What the film unmasks is the solitary life of the writer, the life of one who has become, as Manera articulated, "a self-appointed slave to his writing."