Synopses & Reviews
A critical evaluation of Philip Roth — the first of its kind — that takes on the man, the myth, and the work.
Philip Roth — one of the most renowned writers of his generation — hardly needs introduction. From his debut, Goodbye, Columbus, which won the National Book Award, to his Pulitzer Prize-winning American Pastoral, to his eternally inventive later works such as Exit Ghost and Nemesis, Roth has produced some of the greatest literature of the past hundred years. And yet there has been no major critical work about him, until now.
Here, at last, is the story of Roth's creative life. Claudia Roth Pierpont, a writer for The New Yorker for more than twenty years, tells an engaging story even as she delves into the many complexities of Roth's work and the controversies it has raised. This is not a biography — though it contains many biographical details — but something more rewarding: an attempt to understand a great writer through his art.
Pierpont, who has known Roth for several years, peppers her gracefully written and carefully researched account with conversational details, providing insights and anecdotes previously accessible only to a very few, touching on Roth's family, his inspirations, his critics, the full range of his fiction, and his literary friendships with such figures as Saul Bellow and John Updike.
Roth Unbound is a major achievement, a fascinating and highly readable work that will set the standard for Roth scholarship for years to come.
In 2012 acclaimed novelist Philip Roth famously declared that he was retiring sending shudders of disbelief through the literary world. Drawing on conversations with Roth and featuring insightful close readings of his entire oeuvre longtime New Yorker staff writer Pierpont (Passionate Minds: Women Rewriting the World) offers a dazzling chronicle that traces moments from the author’s life and explores the “life of his art.” Pierpont develops the story of Roth’s writing chronologically summarizing the plots and critical reception of each of his many novels from Goodbye Columbus (1959) to Nemesis (2010). For example “When She was Good is a book as harsh and plain as the world that Roth depicts.... Roth was no longer standing outside the ‘Americans’ he’d been observing... he was burrowing within them even if only to discover a resistance to admitting depths.” Pierpont declares Sabbath’s Theater “a masterpiece of twentieth century American literature: coursing with life dense with character and wisdom it gives the deepest experiences we face—dying remembering holding on to each other—the startling impact of first knowledge.” Exit Ghost is about the “mystification between young and old” while Nemesis is about “conscience and duty as much as it is about the randomness of fate.” Her luminous and graceful study achieves what all good criticism should: it drives us to reread Roth’s work anew. Agent: Robert Cornfield Robert Cornfield Literary Agency. (Oct.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved."
“In chronicling and examining Roth's fictional oeuvre Pierpont brilliantly captures much of Roth's life in her words....Pierpont brings admiration and affection to her assessment, while never relinquishing critical integrity.” The Boston Globe
“An insightful portrait of a creative life....Pierpont traces Roth's life through two marriages, many affairs, a few awkward dates with Jacqueline Kennedy, assorted medical maladies and near-suicidal depression. She offers judicious overviews of his works and critics responses, including feminists accusations of misogyny....Pierpont's book offers a candid and sympathetic portrait of an audacious writer.” Kirkus
“Something of a cubist yet seamless portrait — not a standard biography, but a deep immersion in Roth from all angles, even the unexpected ones, using every technique available, in order to know his thoughts, his history, the books, his world, and the times in which he lives. This is a remarkable achievement in literary criticism.” The Daily Beast
“[Roth Unbound is] a thorough, intensive, elegant reflection on Roth's career.” The New Republic
“Her book is sprinkled with tantalizing glimpses of the man, whom she describes as ‘a brilliant talker...as funny as you might think from his books, and of his life'....[But] Roth Unbound is mainly about the books....This makes for a dazzling...journey....Despite her personal tie and obvious admiration, Pierpont doesn't mince words in her literary criticism, and her book is better for it....Roth Unbound brings heightened understanding to the extraordinary scope and risk-taking brilliance of Roth's work, and makes a compelling case for its enduring importance.” Heller McAplin, NPR
“There are many things that can make a critical biography a must-read. Access and insight are two of them, and in Roth Unbound: A Writer and his Books, Claudia Roth Pierpont provides both in spades....The real pleasure in these pages is what the authors friendship with Roth provides: rare insight into his books and all that went into them. While it's impossible for any critic or biographer to enter the mind of her subject or to experience up close the wheels of creativity as they grind away, Pierpont comes as close as one can hope to....Roth Unbound is also remarkable for Pierpont's own prose." The New Yorker
“[A] refreshingly searching and interrogative book, one that seems properly unsettled about every question save that of Roth's genius.” The New York Observer
About the Author
Claudia Roth Pierpont is a staff writer for The New Yorker, where she has written about the arts for more than twenty years. The subjects of her articles have ranged from James Baldwin to Katharine Hepburn, from Machiavelli to Mae West. A collection of Pierpont's essays on women writers, Passionate Minds: Women Rewriting the World, was published in 2000 and was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award. Pierpont has been the recipient of a Whiting Writers Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a fellowship at the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers of the New York Public Library. She has a PhD in Italian Renaissance art history from New York University. She lives in New York City.