So the biographer of bad boy P. Roth is himself a bad boy! How far down does this go? Is the book’s editor a bad boy? Typesetter?

Meh. Aside from mucho giggles at age sixteen when my parents brought Portnoy into the house, UD, who taught Roth’s short stories for years, hasn’t benefited all that much from plenty of Roth reading. She fails to detect any literary style in the guy, for starters… Actually, wait, I have another vivid and very positive Roth memory. It’s pouring down rain one Chicago afternoon, and I’m waiting in his car for my boyfriend to pick up something at the Newberry Library. I’m listening to a tape he has playing of Philip Roth reading from one of his works – and it’s absolutely hilarious. Roth’s delivery is hilarious. I’m laughing like a madwoman; and when my boyfriend comes back to the car I make him wait to drive off until I’ve heard the whole thing.

But anyway my problem with Roth never had to do with his characters’ malsain morality; it involved a sense that while the short stories were sharp and moody and wise, the novels were… the novel was not his form. Even Portnoy feels too long; and even his short novels (Everyman, for instance) dully drag. Propped up in their early days by libido, his later novels just lie there.

All of this, I suppose, reflects Roth’s classic bad-boy declension through life (cad-icity; flaccidity; acidity), which left him all bittered up with nowhere to go. Maybe he chose another bad boy to write his bio because he figured a guy like that could summon the ghost of the cocksman. Didn’t work.

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3 Responses to “Licentiousness Squared”

  1. Van L. Hayhow Says:

    Is there a collection of his short stories you can recommend?

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Van: This is a good one:

  3. Greg Says:

    Unless you time and genre gerrymander-in Wallace Stevens great poetry, I have read far too little from American writers of that era, and now will read the P.R. short stories. I was going to ask here about Bellow, but a search of your blog has provided ample answers. Herzog is on my list for the next month or two. Thank you.

    P.s reading A. France’s Revolt of the Angels (in translation; very funny) has made me want to take another running start at Paradise Lost. (Obviously a very different book with only crude thematic connections.) The beginning of Paradise Lost is wonderful, but, somehow, I never made it through. Very much as with the Aeneid and its really beautiful first chapters in the Fitzgerald translation.

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