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The Ghost Writer Paperback – August 1, 1995
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A middle-aged writer recalls his younger self. At 23, Nathan Zuckerman has had four stories published and a small, flattering Saturday Review up-and-coming-author profile (complete with a photo of him playing with his ex-girlfriend's cat), which he purports to scorn. As genuine and polite as he seems, Zuckerman has already hurt his family with his autobiographical art and ruined his relationship with adultery and honesty. Visiting his reclusive idol (famed for his "blend of sympathy and pitilessness") in the Berkshires, the writer watches himself watching himself and attempts to confront his work and life. Instead he finds himself turning reality into metafiction. A quote he happens upon from Henry James only complicates matters further: "We work in the dark--we do what we can--we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art." Events, however, have their revenge, weaving more out of control than even he can anticipate or ask for. Philip Roth is the master of the uncomfortable, and his alter ego a connoisseur of self-involvement, self-loathing, and self-examination. ("Virtuous reader, if you think that after intercourse all animals are sad, try masturbating on the daybed in E. I. Lonoff's study and see how you feel when it's over.")
From Library Journal
Both these novels follow protagonist Nathan Zuckerman through different times in his life?Ghost Writer, dubbed a "glowing work of fiction" by LJ's reviewer (LJ 9/1/79), introduced the character in his youth, while 1981's Unbound offers him in his mid-30s. Roth's many fans will be happy to see these again.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Admittedly, it is difficult for me to be objective about this book because it speaks to me personally on so many levels. As an aspiring writer myself, I identify easily with Zuckerman's emotions on meeting an idol and trying to deal with the reality of the dream. I also recognize Zuckerman's tendency as a writer to let his imagination play out scenarios of explanation to understand things he's witnessed. To wit, his extended imagining of Amy as Anne Frank, who has somehow survived the concentration camp and hidden her identity, even while becoming one of the most famous people in the world through her diary. As someone who reads my other reviews will realize, I'm an amateur Anne Frank historian so I found this fiction particularly interesting and, on some levels, quite believable. Certainly it has crossed the mind of everyone who has studied Anne Frank to wonder what she would be like if she had survived. Roth gives us a possibility.
Ultimately, I found this brief novel quite satisfying. Roth's ability to write readable prose is beyond question. So, if the summary of the story sounds interesting to you, it is definitely worth the single sitting it would take to read it.
Roth knows how to tell a story. He knows where the bones of structure go, he knows how to order his information, deploy a flowing rhythm, adjust perspective and fashion a remarkable voice. He knows how to be funny ha-ha and how to be funny, hmmm. He is a writer of great economy who fits a lot of vision into a cleanly told story. In this book, the young worshipful Zuckerman arrives at the Berkshire retreat of his idol, the famous writer E.I. Lonoff, for an evening of literary conversation over dinner and drinks. Across the span of the evening, Zuckerman learns what a career of nothing but writing can do to a man and, more importantly, to his marriage. He recalls his own family issues that have sprung up now that he has begun to write stories that portray middle class Jewish Americans in the glare of reality. When it becomes late and Lonoff insists he stay the night, Zuckerman learns a lot more about Lonoff than was expected, and contemplates the mysterious graduate assistant who also stays, who inspires in the third movement of the book, an alternative history about Anne Frank. Several different variations of meaning are wrung out of the term "ghost writer" in the course of less than 24 hours.
I have the feeling I will have to read it again to understand it.