OneMansView, November 21, 2009
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Analysis is Paralysis (3.75*s)
Simon Axler, long a star of the stage, was a natural. But he worked at his craft. He often arrived hours before a performance just to get into the mood of a role – nothing particularly analytical. However, seemingly suddenly, Simon couldn’t let his acting flow; he was literally paralyzed by attempting to, in real-time, observe and critique his performances. “He’d lost his magic.” His failures at such places as the Kennedy Center were so total and devastating that he and the critics agreed that he no longer belonged on a stage.
Perhaps if Simon, now sixty-five, had been younger, he could have regrouped or changed. Instead Simon contemplates ending it all but chooses to check into a psychiatric facility with all of its stock, infantile treatments and therapies. He eventually concludes that life is all caprice – one can gain and lose powers practically overnight.
Left in utter isolation in his rural farmhouse in New York, Simon is surprised by the visit of the now-grown, forty-year-old daughter of acting friends from many years ago. Peegen, as it turns out, is on the rebound from a lover, girlfriend who is in the process of changing sexes, but immediately begins a most thoroughgoing relationship with Simon. He has always been attractive to women; he appeals to their need for expression. Over the next year or so, he spends large sums on her in trips to NYC. Inevitably, doubts begin to intrude, but they agree to “risk.” In his state of mind, regardless of developments and consequences, does he really have a choice?
The book is short. One is reminded of many of Roth’s recent books: aging male, infirm in various respects, absolutely still attracted to intriguing women, and an end racing towards him at nearly breakneck speed. While the book is short, it is complete. Roth says what he wants to and as always in a sharp Rothian, appealing manner. Perhaps the nature of acting and it precariousness could have been explored, but the focus here is on a character. Not great, but a nice, little book.