How to best come to terms with the fiction of Philip Roth seems an almost idle question. What need do we have of any special terms? Can’t it simply be the old problem of how best to talk about the books we read, and some of those we come to love? And is it hagiography we might be after, or a stern desire to avoid any hint of such? Shouldn’t Roth take his unabashed stance and his licks with the others: Mailer, Bellow, Malamud, who are at once his compeers and his opponents, even in part his creation (think of the character of Lonoff in The Ghost Writer)? But more than a shadowy suspicion colors the problem. Could it be that Roth is the greatest of all his generation of American novelists, even with a nod to others such as Updike and Delillo? Would he himself be willing to play the games of genius and fortune and pace setter and the varied counters by which we measure literary achievement? In his work the (authorial) self is always trying to make the (existential) self answerable to the snares and glitter of ambition, irony, and self-delusion (not to mention self-abasement.) It might be the better part of wisdom to let Roth deal with his own artistic legacy, for after all his recently announced retirement from the life of writing suggests that he has come to terms with his own final self-estimations.

More… “Philip Roth’s Indignation

Charles Molesworth has published a number of books on modern literature. His most recent book is The Capitalist and the Critic: J.P. Morgan, Roger Fry and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (U. of Texas).



I’m trying to lose some weight. Do you know of a poem that can help me? — Candice P., Newport, Rhode Island

A poem to help in the short term, by Jim Harrison and Ted Kooser:

“Sometimes my big front teeth bite my lower lip and my food gets all bloody…”

Maybe that will gross you out and you won’t be able to eat for a while. Write it down and put it in your pocket, and if you ever have the urge to overeat, read it.

A poem to help in the long-term, by Robert Phillips:

Instrument of Choice

She was a girl no one ever chose for teams or clubs, dances or dates,

so she chose the instrument no one else wanted: the tuba. Big as herself, heavy as her heart,

its golden tubes and coils… More…