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Letting Go Paperback – September 2, 1997

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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage International
  • Paperback: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (September 2, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679764178
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679764175
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #939,668 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"A first novel of awesome maturity." —James Atlas

"A rich book, full of incident, wry and sad and even in its most desolating scene somehow amusing." —Elizabeth Hardwick, Harper's

"[Roth] has the finest eye for the details of American life since Sinclair Lewis." —Stanley Edgar Hyman

From the Inside Flap

Letting Go is Roth's first full-length novel, published just after Goodbye, Columbus, when he was twenty-nine. Set in 1950s Chicago, New York, and Iowa city, Letting Go presents as brilliant a fictional portrait as we have of a mid-century America defined by social and ethical constraints and by moral compulsions conspicuously different from those of today.

Newly discharged from the Korean War army, reeling from his mother's recent death, freed from old attachments and hungrily seeking others, Gabe Wallach is drawn to Paul Herz, a fellow graduate student in literature, and to Libby, Paul's moody, intense wife. Gabe's desire to be connected to the ordered "world of feeling" that he finds in books is first tested vicariously by the anarchy of the Herzes' struggles with responsible adulthood and then by his own eager love affairs. Driven by the desire to live seriously and act generously, Gabe meets an impassable test in the person of Martha Reganhart, a spirited, outspoken, divorced mother of two, a formidable woman who, according to critic James Atlas, is masterfully portrayed with "depth and resonance."

The complex liason between Gabe and Martha and Gabe's moral enthusiasm for the trials of others are at the heart of this tragically comic work.

More About the Author

In the 1990s Philip Roth won America's four major literary awards in succession: the National Book Critics Circle Award for Patrimony (1991), the PEN/Faulkner Award for Operation Shylock (1993), the National Book Award for Sabbath's Theater (1995), and the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for American Pastoral (1997). He won the Ambassador Book Award of the English-Speaking Union for I Married a Communist (1998); in the same year he received the National Medal of Arts at the White House. Previously he won the National Book Critics Circle Award for The Counterlife (1986) and the National Book Award for his first book, Goodbye, Columbus (1959). In 2000 he published The Human Stain, concluding a trilogy that depicts the ideological ethos of postwar America. For The Human Stain Roth received his second PEN/Faulkner Award as well as Britain's W. H. Smith Award for the Best Book of the Year. In 2001 he received the highest award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Gold Medal in Fiction, given every six years "for the entire work of the recipient." In 2005 The Plot Against America received the Society of American Historians Award for "the outstanding historical novel on an American theme for 2003--2004." In 2007 Roth received the PEN/Faulkner Award for Everyman.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Steve on July 31, 2006
Format: Paperback
Three-and-a-half stars. As much as I dislike some of what Roth has written, I can't deny that he's one of the greats in American literature. "Letting Go" reads as you might expect Roth's first novel to read--that is, it's ambitious, outrageous, and (most of the time) brutally honest. Themes that Roth would go on to expand upon later (Jewish identity, the problems of sex and love and marriage, the desire to find meaning in great works of literature) are evident here in spades. But it also reads like a *first* novel--meaning, Roth was still finding his footing and not without a few fumbles.

The book is ambitious, no question--too ambitious, I think. It's as though Roth is trying to consolidate the entire human condition into one novel, which though admirable, is impossible to do. He's grappling with mature themes and questions, but the result is one of dilution. He paints his characters and issues in broad strokes; no particular theme or question gets its full due, despite the book's staggering length. Roth clearly learned his lesson with "Letting Go"--his subsequent novels were much more pointed and concise.

Other drawbacks: the male characters, as is typical of most Roth novels, are drawn far more convincingly than the females, who are too often portrayed as screeching, manic-depressive nags; Roth wanders too often from his narrative course (which accounts for the 630 pages)--for example, the shocking event that transpires in Part 5 is a blatant plot device that screams of insecurity on Roth's part and does nothing to shed light on his characters; and the overall dreariness of the characters and their nihilistic views of life often inspires, not empathy, but eye-rolling.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 11, 2001
Format: Paperback
Don't listen to the negative reviews. I read this book 3 times, the first at age 16. I am now 53. It is my favorite of Roth's work. The fact that he wrote it at age 29 makes it even more remarkable. Make up your own mind.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Schwartz on September 10, 2008
Format: Paperback
This vast novel of urban Jewish academic life in the mid-1950s (first published in 1961) is a dark, brooding meditation on birth, death, family, and the inescapable angst of life. Our "hero" Gabe Wallach and Paul and Libby Herz, the married couple his life is entwined with, are at first graduate students in literature in Iowa and then young faculty members at the University of Chicago. Gabe reluctantly and bafflingly becomes more and more involved in the depressing and difficult lives of Paul and Libby. In many ways this is an existentialist novel and reflects the basic ideas of existentialism, which was so popular in the 1950s. Gabe, and the others, are constantly faced with choices, some trivial seeming, others momentous, and must confront their freedom and their inability to ground their choices or even understand their choices.

Among the momentous choices are Gabe's and Paul's rejection of traditional Jewish religion and life. This is a novel of secular Jewish life and its compromises and difficulties. Gabe's mother has just died, and he is drifting away from his New York dentist father. Paul is Jewish, from Brooklyn, but Libby is a Catholic who converts to Judaism. They met and loved as students at Cornell. Both Paul and Libby are shunned by their families, which leads to tragic consequences.

Gabe and his friends are just beginning to explore the leading edges of the Sexual Revolution and are struggling with issues that today seem rather obsolete. Nevertheless these first glimmerings of women's liberation and sexual freedom caused all sorts of turmoil for those in the avant guard. Roth captures the angst, fear, depression, and exhilaration of those exploratory days.
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24 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Marshall Boswell on October 28, 2003
Format: Paperback
Your favorite book isn't necessarily the greatest book you've ever read: it's just the one that speaks most directly and resonately for you. This is my all-time favotite, and I've read all of Roth. I love the characters, the structure, even the typeface and lay-out design. I first read this book in its old orange mass-market paperback edition way back in the late 80s, in celebration of my leaving graduate school in order to go write my first novel--a novel, I'll go ahead and admit, influenced sharply by "Goodbye, Columbus," which I had also recently read and adored--and for the next couple of years, as I toiled away at that novel, I kept picking up my beat-up copy of "Letting Go" and reading it at random, the way people used to read the Bible: I'd stroke the binding, smell the paper, re-read the notes I scribbled in the inside of the jacket. Later, when I was too poor to do so, I shelled out $65 for a mint-condition first edition of the Random House hardcover edition, complete with a flawless book jacket. After my kids and my wife, that's what I'm grabbing when my house catches on fire. I revere Roth as much as I want to argue with him--he's not the greatest confrontational writer of our time for nothing--and yet this one I remove from that great corpus and insert directly into the fabric of my own life.
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