geoff.wichert, June 23, 2008 (view all comments by geoff.wichert)
“It’s because life’s most disturbing intensity is death.” With these words Roth’s everyman could be justifying why this biography of his life focuses on its end. Sure it’s unwelcome, but death touches us all. And in this novella, readable in a sitting, Roth’s stripped to the American essentials prose tells a story that at some point touches everyone’s dying--and living.
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"Publishers Weekly Review"
by Publishers Weekly,
"What is it about Philip Roth? He has published 27 books, almost all of which deal with the same topics — Jewishness, Americanness, sex, aging, family — and yet each is simultaneously familiar and new. His latest novel is a slim but dense volume about a sickly boy who grows up obsessed with his and everybody else's health, and eventually dies in his 70s, just as he always said he would. (I'm not giving anything away here; the story begins with the hero's funeral.) It might remind you of the old joke about the hypochondriac who ordered his tombstone to read: 'I told you I was sick.' And yet, despite its coy title, the book is both universal and very, very specific, and Roth watchers will not be able to stop themselves from comparing the hero to Roth himself. (In most of his books, whether written in the third person or the first, a main character is a tortured Jewish guy from Newark — like Roth.) The unnamed hero here is a thrice-married adman, a father and a philanderer, a 70-something who spends his last days lamenting his lost prowess (physical and sexual), envying his healthy and beloved older brother, and refusing to apologize for his many years of bad behavior, although he palpably regrets them. Surely some wiseacre critic will note that he is Portnoy all grown up, an amalgamation of all the womanizing, sex- and death-obsessed characters Roth has written about (and been?) throughout his career. But to obsess about the parallels between author and character is to miss the point: like all of Roth's works, even the lesser ones, this is an artful yet surprisingly readable treatise on...well, on being human and struggling and aging at the beginning of the new century. It also borrows devices from his previous works — there's a sequence about a gravedigger that's reminiscent of the glove-making passages in American Pastoral, and many observations will remind careful readers of both Patrimony and The Dying Animal — and through it all, there's that Rothian voice: pained, angry, arrogant and deeply, wryly funny. Nothing escapes him, not even his own self-seriousness. 'Amateurs look for inspiration; the rest of us just get up and go to work,' he has his adman-turned-art-teacher opine about an annoying student. Obviously, Roth himself is a professional." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review A Day"
by Scott Raab, Esquire,
"The upside, of course, is that Roth is the best fiction writer America has ever produced. And Everyman is fiction as calligraphy, a ribbon of memory spun from a single stroke across a couple hundred pages, encircling, and entombing, a life." (read the entire Esquire review)
"Review A Day"
by Benjamin Markovits, The Times Literary Supplement,
"Everyman is Roth's attempt to modernize The Death of Ivan Ilych. Although it lacks the terrible grandeur of Tolstoy's story, Roth's version might be set at a still lower temperature....Perhaps the only weakness in Everyman is that there isn't really, in the end, any argument to keep up — which is another way of saying that Philip Roth has reached the limit of what he can be funny about." (read the entire TLS review)
"Review A Day"
by James Wood, The New Republic,
"Everyman is in places quite beautiful, illuminated by that fine precision and relative spareness of language that has characterized Roth's work in his late phase. Like some of that work, notably The Human Stain and American Pastoral, it starts well and ends even better, but it leaves the muddle of a middle somewhere behind it, like a sloughed skin....Despite some undeniably moving passages, the novella fails to gather its power: the sum of its parts is not finally as affecting as the parts themselves." (read the entire New Republic review)
"Review A Day"
by Joseph O'Neill, The Atlantic Monthly,
"Let's use a noun I've never used before: masterpiece. Whereas Roth's prize-laden recent fictions are a tad manipulative, in Everyman there is never any sense of a novelist trying to write a novel. Every sentence is urgent, essential, almost nonfictional....Everyman is therefore that rarest of literary achievements: a novel that disappears as it progresses, leaving in one's hands only the matters of life and death it describes." (read the entire Atlantic Monthly review)
"Roth continues exercising his career-defining, clear-eyed, intelligent vision of how the psychology of families works....Perhaps...more readers will find this lean, poignant novel more relevant to themselves."
by Kirkus Reviews,
"This risky novel is significantly marred by redundancy and discursiveness...but energized by vivid writing, palpable emotional intensity and several wrenching scenes....A rich exploration of the epiphany that awaits us all — that 'life's most disturbing intensity is death.'"
by Rocky Mountain News,
"Everyman is vintage Roth: full of passion, anger and vivid details of lives well lived and profoundly screwed up....Everyman doesn't exactly brim with happy, fun fun. However, fans of serious fiction...know to hunt down other forms of satisfaction."
by Michiko Kakutani, New York Times,
"In the course of Everyman Mr. Roth captures the more depressing aspects of aging....But these harrowing evocations of age and infirmity do not a novel make. This book often reads like a laundry list of complaints about the human condition."
by Entertainment Weekly,
"[Everyman] verges on being a mocking summation of what people who don't appreciate Philip Roth's work mistakenly think it's all about....There are some great turns of phrase...but the vanity and cruelty of this man render him and his self-pitying tale inert. (Grade: C+)"
by USA Today,
"It's far from Roth's best work, but it contains flashes of the writing that earned him a Pulitzer Prize in 1997....[A]t the age of 73, he's in excellent health and is at work on yet another novel. That could be good news for readers, even if Everyman is a disappointment."
by Providence Journal,
"The new novel clocks in at a slim 182 pages, yet it is packed densely with observations and recriminations....It is the empathy that Roth creates for this seemingly unsympathetic character that drives the novel to its extraordinary heights."
by Library Journal,
"This brilliant little morality play on the ways that our bodies dictate the paths our lives take is vintage Roth; essential for every fiction collection."
by Cleveland Plain Dealer,
"One of the literary lessons of The Great Gatsby is that in the right hands, a short novel can have deep impact. Everyman...is no instant classic, but it dives similarly deep and makes an indelible impression."
by Minneapolis Star Tribune,
"Everyman continues his recent streak of notable books. And although Roth is far from always perfect, the book is further proof he will be remembered and re-read."
by The Boston Globe,
"Everyman is a swift, brutal novel about a heartbreakingly ordinary subject, and it is also testament to Roth that the book leaves you a little breathless and not at all bereft."
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