Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Who wouldn't envy a shelf like Philip Roth's? He says he's done now, and just the making of a statement like that is unusual: writers don't walk away the way that athletes or musicians do; not as a rule. Fading away, Neil Young style is the preferred exit-- "Across the River and Into The Trees", say, or anything Kurt Vonnegut wrote after-- I don't know, "Slaughterhouse 5"? Roth may have hung on a bit too long, like Willie Mays, but it is undeniable that he had a long valedictory. Jason Diamond makes an interesting point in The Observer:
"Mr. Roth is part of the school of novelists, poets, playwrights, essayists and songwriters that includes Grace Paley, Norman Mailer, Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, Bernard Malamud, Leonard Cohen, Cynthia Ozick, Edward Lewis Wallant, Arthur Miller, Joseph Heller, Leonard Michaels and the Canadian-born, American-raised Saul Bellow, whose opening line to his 1953 breakout novel The Adventures of Augie March is not only of the same iconic stature as Moby-Dick’s 'Call me Ishmael' but reads like a rallying cry for Jewish assimilation just a few years removed from Hitler’s massacre: 'I am an American, Chicago born.' "Funny that Mr. Diamond picks Bellow as the paradigmatic member of this "school"-- Roth is nearly twenty years Bellow's junior, and the age difference shows-- Bellow would have been incapable of writing "The Conversion of the Jews", and belongs to a generation that came of age during WWII. Roth's sense of humor was the first quality that defined him, and in many ways his writing is from the assimilated perspective that assumes Augie March's declaration as a given.