Synopses & Reviews
David Kepesh is an eminent cultural critic and star lecturer at a New York college-as well as an articulate propagandist of the sexual revolution. For years he has made a practice of sleeping with adventurous female students while maintaining an aesthete's critical distance. But now that distance has been annihilated.
When he becomes involved with Consuela Castillo, the humblingly beautiful daughter of Cuban exiles, Kepesh finds himself dragged helplessly, bitterly, furiously into the quagmire of sexual jealousy and loss. In chronicling this descent, Philip Roth performs a breathtaking set of variations on the themes of eros and mortality, license and repression, selfishness and sacrifice.
About the Author
In 1997 Philip Roth won the Pulitzer Prize for American Pastoral. In 1998 he received the National Medal of Arts at the White House and in 2002 the highest award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Gold Medal in Fiction. He has twice won the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He has won the PEN/Faulkner Award three times. In 2005 The Plot Against America received the Society of American Historians’ Prize for “the outstanding historical novel on an American theme for 2003-2004.” Recently Roth received PEN’s two most prestigious awards: in 2006 the PEN/Nabokov Award and in 2007 the PEN/Bellow Award for achievement in American fiction. Roth is the only living American novelist to have his work published in a comprehensive, definitive edition by the Library of America. In 2011 he received the National Humanities Medal at the White House, and was later named the fourth recipient of the Man Booker International Prize.
Reading Group Guide
1. To begin, answer these questions using the book as your guide. Read aloud the relevant sentences or passages.
a. Why is Janie Wyatt Kepeshs hero [pp. 48-58]?
b. Why is Caroline Lyons Kepeshs lover [pp. 46-48, 69-76]?
c. Why does Miranda stay behind after the party [pp. 7-9]?
d. Why does Elena Hrabovsky come to Kepesh when shes unhappy about her life with men? What is Kepeshs response to her unhappiness [pp. 107-110]?
e. Why is Kepeshs description of Consuelas vulva so detailed [p. 103]? Why the aquatic and artistic references? What human emotion informs this passage?
2. What are the sources of pleasure in Consuela Castillo and David Kepeshs relationship? What do they offer each other? What allows each to “master” the other? Describe Consuela.
3. Why does Kepesh become obsessively jealous? Do his pleasure and jealousy derive from the same source?
4. What is the place of music in Kepeshs life? What about books?
5. After Consuela leaves Kepesh, his friend the poet George OHearn warns him to stay away from her: “This is the pathology in its purest form. . . . You violated the law of aesthetic distance. You sentimentalized the aesthetic experience with this girl—you personalized it, you sentimentalized it, and you lost the sense of separation essential to your enjoyment” [p. 99]. Why would George suggest, and Kepesh be receptive to, the notion that sexual relations be governed by aesthetic laws?
6. Kepesh agrees with George that “attachment is ruinous,” finds those who voluntarily give up their freedom “ridiculous,” and feels that “marriage at its best is a sure-fire stimulant to the thrills of licentious subterfuge” [p. 111]. His son Kenny, who struggles to make his own marriage work, accuses him of gross irresponsibility, of confusing sexual freedom with vulgar self-interest, of behaving like a lecherous fool. Does the novel resolve these conflicting points of view? Does it endorse one position over the other or simply bring them into clarifying opposition?
7. Why doesnt Kepeshs son Kenny listen to his father? Is Kepesh not giving Kenny good advice?
8. In what ways is The Dying Animal about the intersection of Americas cultural history with David Kepeshs personal history? How does he interpret the sixties? How does the sexual revolution “revolutionize” his life? What does it cost him?
9. Kepesh argues that family life is childish and that “emancipated manhood never has had a social spokesman or an educational system. It has no social status because people dont want it to have social status” [p. 112]. Why do people refuse to give “emancipated manhood” social status? Do they give “emancipated womanhood” social status? If Kepesh were gay or female, would that alter your response to the book?
10. Why does Roth include the extended section on George OHearns death? What is the motive behind OHearns final desperate attempt to undress his wife [pp. 121-3]?
11. How does Consuelas illness abolish the age difference between her and Kepesh?
12. Even though its last word is “finished,” and even though its final pages are filled with anxiety about death, The Dying Animal is open-ended. Why does Roth choose to close the book in this way? What is likely to happen to David Kepesh? Will he ignore his listeners warning and go to Consuela? If so, will it be the end of him?
“A disturbing masterpiece.” —The New York Review of Books
The introduction, discussion questions, suggested reading list, and author biography that follow are designed to enhance your groups discussion of Philip Roths The Dying Animal. We hope they will deepen and broaden your understanding of one of Roths most brilliant characters, David Kepesh, and the story he tells in this complex and powerful novel.