Lest it be thought that I let reading a book get in the way of talking about it, I'd like to present a couple of reviews and an interview: William Skildesky's writeup in The Guardian, Wall Street Journal interview with Jeffrey Trachtenberg, and Jesse Kornbluth's take on HuffingtonPost.com about this selection. (If you perversely choose to ignore the professionals, here is a tutor's take on the whole thing.) If you haven't read it yet, you will have to, as most of these give away most of the novel.
This is our darkest and most adult selection so far, which is my priority in writing about the book. Others seem to have followed suit, ranging from the Kornbluth's swoon...
I found it to be Roth's best work in years; sentence for sentence, paragraph for paragraph, he's still the most readable serious writer we've got -- but I have a problem saying much about it....To the cattier review of Skildelsky:
"no amount of past achievement should blind one to a writer's present failings and it has to be said that Roth's new novel is, by his standards, dismayingly poor..."And even though it's not as clear in those small quotes, both writers seem more concerned with the darkness and eroticism of the novel. Since that has been done to death, I'd like to seize upon a small quote from Kornbluth:, explaining why he loved it so "One [clue to his preference] is Roth's interest in aging, which is not at all novelistic. He's not looking to create either charmers or complainers; he's seeking reality." There's a conversation I'd like to see about this novel. For those following along, the protagonist is a failed/exhausted actor eyeing his 70s, throwing himself headlong into a doomed tryst with the grown daughter of old friends. I approached this book with quite a lot to say about the women in it, but I'd love to hear from men about the process of aging, the effects of depression, the "male experience" if you will.
The affair I referred to is a hybrid of two classically titillating formulas: old man and younger woman, and hetero man and lesbian. This coupling is bound to distract reviewers (hell, I wrote about 2 pages on it this morning!) but I would like to hear people on the subject of Simon Alexer himself. Any takers?
As a parting shot, I'd like to leave you with this passage from the Philip Roth Society biography, for anyone who still wants to explore the strange libido of the novel. This is referring specifically to Roth's 2001 The Dying Animal, but may illuminate our discussion:
"Yet even though its focus in explicitly sexual, this novel, like almost all of Roth's other works, has as its theme the ways in which individuals--specifically men--live with desire in the larger sense of the word. One of the hallmarks of Roth's fiction is the ways in which sexual, communal, familial, ethnic, artistic, and political freedoms play themselves out on the field of contemporary existence."
What does Alexer desire? Is he deluding himself at all, or has he reached a place where what he desires is "true", pure as any want can be? How do you feel about the role of suicide in this work? I found it to be the only logical outcome for this particular character, even if it feels excessively dramatic.
Tell me what you think!