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Everyman Paperback – April 10, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. [Signature]Reviewed by Sara NelsonWhat 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)Sara Nelson is editor-in-chief of PW.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Bookmarks Magazine
Roth's late-career surge has the Minneapolis Star-Tribune wondering if the esteemed writer is "juicing himself on the literary equivalent of steroids." After the success of The Plot Against America (**** Nov/Dec 2004), the Pulitzer Prize-National Book Award-PEN/Nabokov?winning author shifts his focus from the political to the intensely personal. The critics divide into two camps: those that see Everyman as a cohesive blend of Roth's thematic concerns and those that feel he's just treading the same old ground he covered in The Dying Animal, but with much less success. It's a tug of war of expectations, with the supporters of this 27th novel outnumbering the disappointed. For a man who once said, "Sheer playfulness and deadly seriousness are my closest friends," expect more of the latter from this short, meditative work.<BR>Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
The basic structure of "Everyman" is a man recounting (and often lamenting) the major episodes in his life, as he looks back while facing the inevitable and yet unpredictable end. "Everyman" springs from earth that Roth has tilled many times before: childhood in northeastern New Jersey; love, intimacy, marriage and divorce; family, especially fathers and brothers; and physical ailments and death. There is a particular emphasis in "Everyman" on the travails of aging, and the inevitable, inexorable decline as each person falls from the height of his powers to an often slow, agonizing, lonely death.
Although the details of each man's life differ, I believe that many upper middle class American men will identify with the struggles of the main character in "Everyman". He divorces three times, and while not every American man will do so, I think most will be able to identify with the forces that the main character struggles with. As time goes on, he ends up estranged from several close relations and his loneliness mounts, which are certainly issues that many older people face. The portrayal that "Everyman" presents of aging and death is not a nice one, but it may be an all too common one.
Being a short novel, "Everyman" does not have the space for long tangential off-shoots of narrative, or passages rooted in alternate realities, or other literary techniques employed by Roth in his longer works. In that sense it is one of his more straightforward works, and yet it does read as a complete unabbreviated work. Because Roth is capable of much more inventive works of literature, I wouldn't rank "Everyman" among his best, but for what it is, a short novel, it did please this reader.
The treatment here is a bit different--more relentless and focussed, although at the same time, more generalized and abstract. Although all of the people around the unnamed narrator are specified, he remains something of a cipher, and certainly doesn't have the presence of a Zuckerman or a Portnoy. Nonetheless, the book makes for engaging reading. Roth's lesser works are more compelling than the work of most American writers.
"Everyman" is the story of a successful advertising executive coming to grips with his own mortality. As he does, Roth takes us into his mind as he reviews his life - a life filled with poor judgment, irresponsibility, and lost opportunities for happiness, or at least peace. "He'd married three times, had mistresses and children and an interesting job where he'd been a success, but now eluding death seemed to have become the central business of his life and bodily decay his entire story."
Roth's "everyman" is self-absorbed, repeatedly taking the path "most traveled," a path blind to the truth of life. As illness takes over and the end nears, "everyman" begins to grasp truth and the source of life's real value. "When you are young, it's the outside of your body that matters, how you look externally. When you get older, it's what's inside that matters, and people stop caring about how you look."
But it is too late, "there's no remaking reality." Relationships are irretrievably lost and time has run out for meaningful pursuits.
This is not another "Tuesdays with Morrie," but rather, serves as a stark contrast to it. "Tuesdays" highlights an enlightened path to a peaceful death. Roth's "Everyman" highlights an unenlightened path that leads to loneliness and despair.
Roth, a gifted writer, insures that his "Everyman" will disturb most "everyman" who is over 50 and on the road "most traveled."
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