The Invincible Mr. Roth

01/29/2013 01:28 pm ET Updated Mar 31, 2013
FILE - In this Sept. 8, 2008 file photo, author Philip Roth poses for a photo in the offices of his publisher Houghton Miffli
FILE - In this Sept. 8, 2008 file photo, author Philip Roth poses for a photo in the offices of his publisher Houghton Mifflin, in New York. The 79-year-old novelist recently told a French publication, Les inRocks, that his 2010 release "Nemesis" would be his last. A spokeswoman for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt said Friday that she spoke with Roth and that he confirmed his remarks. Roth completed more than 20 novels over half a century and often turning out one a year. He won virtually every prize short of the Nobel and wrote such classics as "American Pastoral" and "Portnoy's Complaint." (AP Photo/Richard Drew, file)

(Freely inspired by the final part of Nemesis.)

And then he wrote his last paragraph. You could see each of his muscles -- his whole idiosyncrasy -- bulging when he released it into the readers. He let out a strangulated yowl of effort (one we all will be imitating centuries afterward), a voice expressing the essence of him -- the naked battle cry of striving excellence. The instant the pen fell from his hand, he began dancing about to recover his balance: the struggle was over. Retirement. He was a maniac-writer, a ceaselessly worker, since the first short stories published in the fifties. And all the while, Goodbye, Columbus, Letting Go, we watched the narratives as it made its trajectory in a high, When she was good, sweeping arc over the world. None of us had ever before seen a literary act so beautifully executed right in front of our eyes -- Portnoy, Kepesh, Zuckerman. Those narratives carried, carried way beyond the furthest-yard line, out of sight; it will never descend nor land.

We sent up a loud cheer and began leaping about. All of the narratives trajectories had originated in Mr. Roth's supple muscles and in Mr. Roth's supple brain. His was the body -- the height, the feet, the legs, the nose, the brown eyes, the buttocks, the trunk, the arms, the shoulders, even the thick stump of the bull neck -- his was the intellect -- the memory, the coherence, the language -- that acted in unison had powered the writing. It was as though our Newarker fellow, from Weequahic, had turned into a primordial man, hunting for food on the plains where he foraged, taming the wilds by the might of his hand. Never were we more in awe of anyone. Through him, we boys had left the little story of the neighborhood and entered the historical saga of our ancient gender.

Through Mr. Roth's words, the complex human soul -- yours, mine -- has been scrutinized. Through the vivid, ironic, sharp words of a genius who told us once: words, being words, only approximate the real thing. What an approximation! We love, hate and laugh along with Swede Levov, Ira Ringold and Mickey Sabbath; as if we were them all -- living inside their skins, suffering their private emotions. And, most impressive, the extreme reverse: as if all of them were we. How could he do it? The master taught us that our goals are reachable by hard practicing; by exercising with the three D's: determination, dedication, discipline; and that we have to be serious, the seriousness being the expression of his commitment to the task.

But another lesson we took from him was that everything, for the better or the worst, has to end.
He wrote and rewrote the magnificent last paragraph repeatedly that afternoon, each correction smooth and powerful, each correction accompanied by that resounding mingling of a shout and a grunt, and each, to our delight, making the sentences wiser. Running with the sentences aloft, stretching his writing hand in front of his body, sliding the writing hand through the page to release the masterpiece high over his shoulder -- and releasing it then like an explosion -- he seemed to us invincible.

This blog is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post on Philip Roth, the esteemed American author, who recently announced his retirement from writing. To read other pieces in the series, click here. What are your thoughts on this landmark announcement? We invite you to submit pieces of 500-850 words for possible publication in The Huffington Post