December 12, 2012
Philip Roth Finally Gets a Life
From The Atlantic:
When Philip Roth decided to retire, I felt a personal sense of loss. Roth wasn't the first author to hang up the typewriter prematurely. Roth himself cites E.M. Foster's decision, at 40, to stop writing fiction. Kurt Vonnegut tried to retire with Timequake, though he couldn't stick with the plan. Romance writer LaVyrle Spencer retired in 1997. "I want to be free!" she said in a phone call to Publishers Weekly, adding that she wanted to spend time with her grandchildren and travel with her husband.
But this was different. This was Philip Roth! The author whose long-term, absolute devotion to his work was perfectly expressed by his young alter ego Nathan Zuckerman in The Ghost Writer: "Purity. Serenity. Simplicity. Seclusion. All one's flamboyance and originality reserved for the grueling, exalted, transcendent calling...This is how I will live." Like so many people, I've been reading and rereading his work over the years, and it seemed that a writer as strong and obsessive as Roth, only death could halt his production. I depended on him to keep focused entirely on his vocation, decade after decade, no matter how stupid or vulgar American culture grew. Roth couldn't be dumbed down or replaced. You expect ordinary, hard-working mortals to retire from their dull and unfulfilling jobs to Floridian condos and Hawaiian shirts. But not Roth. Retirement was for the rest of us. So I walked around, went to work, and spent time with the family, all the while vaguely thinking: What will I do without any new Roth books? Then the answer came to me: I'll go and live my life. The only real changes: 1. I'll now just reread his books; and 2. Roth will finally get to live his life. Retirement, I saw, is perhaps Roth's last chance to balance the life-work equation.
Posted by Azra Raza at 08:46 PM | Permalink