Friday, January 8, 2016

In Brief: THE DYING ANIMAL by Philip Roth



Roth announced his retirement from being a novel writer a couple of years ago , and it's in the slight variations of his late career novel, 2001 's The Dying Animal, that we can understand why he stopped: had played the last note he could stand on that instrument of style he possessed. Bearing in mind that Roth's genius has been for writing about angry men who are perpetually ill at ease, raging against their imperfections in a world they don't fit in. Roth's works are equals self-loathing, arrogance, misogyny , mother issues, sexual dysfunctional, bitter agnosticism, deeply felt emotional upheaval and revelation, cruel wit and puckish humor, an endless series of ironies that, through out a brilliantly realized career , had Roth as the outstanding straight, white , male Jewish male the rapidly shifting terms of existence seemingly used a punching bag. "The Dying Animal", coming late in his career, deals with a typical Roth protagonist, a male, late in his life, who finds that he no longer love and leave the ladies as he had always done; age, infirmity, impotence, the stuff of raging speeches given in rain storms while the vestments of position and power are stripped from you, reduce him to a supplicant. More irony follows, the poor man gets his just deserts, and anger and bitterness and the sense that nothing stops the torment except death; anyone familiar with Roth's works can more or less forecast how this tale with end, or rather, fade out. Nicely done, we can see, but it lacks the snap, the verbal snarl, the grating detail that highlights the increasingly sour moods and downcast fatalism of the author. It lacks, alas, the energy to get angry again. 

My suggestion would to pick up a book published only slightly earlier, "The Plot Against America"; irony, punch, a sense of playfulness, a story of innocence of youth become threatened by  elements that cloud the sense of the future of American democracy. Not to give to much away in the even that you decide to pick up TPAA , I'll just say that Roth is at his ingenious best, using  a fictionalized version  of himself as a young boy and his family  against the  what if  backdrop of  Aviator, American Hero and widely believed Nazi sympathizer  Charles Lindbergh  had  defeated FDR for President in 1940. Full of narrative invention , the author creates a disturbing sense of how American history would have seen substantially different from the particular vantage of a young Jewish boy and his family . That is the Philip Roth worth seeking out, inventive, dangerous, angry, funny, very human, very much raging to live and feel the emotions that both blessing and curse.