Winner, 2007 PEN/Faulkner Award For Fiction
Synopses & Reviews
Philip Roth's new novel is a candidly intimate yet universal story of loss, regret, and stoicism. The bestselling author of The Plot Against America
now turns his attention from "one family's harrowing encounter with history" (New York Times
) to one man's lifelong skirmish with mortality.
The fate of Roth's everyman is traced from his first shocking confrontation with death on the idyllic beaches of his childhood summers, through the family trials and professional achievements of his vigorous adulthood, and into his old age, when he is rended by observing the deterioration of his contemporaries and stalked by his own physical woes.
The terrain of this powerful novel is the human body. Its subject is the common experience that terrifies us all.
"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.)
"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." Booklist
"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.'" Kirkus Reviews
"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." Rocky Mountain News
"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." Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
"[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+)" Entertainment Weekly
"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." USA Today
"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." Providence 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." Library Journal
"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." Cleveland Plain Dealer
"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." Minneapolis Star Tribune
"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." The Boston Globe
"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." Scott Raab, Esquire
(read the entire Esquire review
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." Benjamin Markovits, The Times Literary Supplement
(read the entire TLS review
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." James Wood, The New Republic
(read the entire New Republic review
"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." Joseph O'Neill, The Atlantic Monthly
(read the entire Atlantic Monthly review
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 received the highest award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Gold Medal in Fiction, previously awarded to John Dos Passos, William Faulkner, and Saul Bellow, among others. He has twice won the National Book Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Roth's recent work includes The Human Stain (2000) and The Dying Animal (2001). In 2005 The Plot Against America won the Society of American Historians' award for "the outstanding historical novel on an American theme in 20032004." Also in 2005 Philip Roth became the third living American writer to have his work published in a comprehensive, definitive edition by the Library of America. The last of the eight volumes is scheduled for publication in 2013.
Reading Group Guide
1. What is the relevance of the title to the story that is told in the novel?
2. What do you learn about the man being buried from the opening scene at the cemetery? What would the book be like if this scene came—as it might if the story were told chronologically—at the end rather than at the beginning?
3. Describe precisely his predicament with his sons, Lonny and Randy.
4. Describe precisely his relationship with his daughter, Nancy. What is the nature of their predicament?
5. Why does he refuse the consolations of religion despite his sharing in the universal terror of death?
6. What is his relationship with the dead? a. With his dead parents. b. With Millicent Kramer. c. With those of his family who are long dead.
7. Why does he take up painting, and why does he abandon it? Why does he begin teaching painting classes to his fellow retirees, and why does he stop teaching?
8. Exactly what transpires between the young jogger and the hero? Trace the shifting development of their encounter line by line.
9. While visiting his parents graves, the protagonist imagines his father telling him: “Look back and atone for what you can atone for, and make the best of what you have left” [p. 171]. Why does he imagine his father giving this order? Why doesnt he imagine his mother giving it? Why does he imagine his mother saying “Good. You lived” [p. 171]. What does she mean? How do you explain the difference between what is voiced by the father and what is voiced by the mother?
10. Some readers have said that they wept when they finished reading the book. Did you weep? If so, why? If not, how do you understand the response of those who did?
11. Examine the final paragraph of the book sentence by sentence. Discuss the motifs that are gathered together in these final sentences and the importance of each to the novel.
12. How does the twenty-first-century novel Everyman significantly diverge in content, form, and intent from the fifteenth-century English morality play Everyman? In what important ways has Roth modernized and secularized that medieval text?
PEN/Faulkner Award Winner
“Our most accomplished novelist. . . . [With Everyman] personal tenderness has reached a new intensity.”
—The New Yorker
The introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading, and author biography that follow are designed to enhance your groups discussion of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Philip Roths extraordinary new novel, Everyman.