by Philip Roth
Fiction as Calligraphy
A review by Scott Raab
The anonymous protagonist of Philip Roth's new novel, Everyman, is buried as the book opens. He dies three lines from its end. In between, he suffers a series of blows to his health, betrays three wives, estranges two sons, loses his parents, comes to hate a loving brother -- his sole sibling -- and discovers that "old age isn't a battle; old age is a massacre." So it's a fairly safe bet that Everyman won't enjoy the commercial success of 2004's The Plot Against America, unless the AARP founds a book club devoted to the literature of the arterial stent.
That the central character in a book by Philip Roth winds up lost and alone, a good boy who has become a man devoured by devouring desire, ain't exactly news. Nor was it news in Genesis. The lacerations and decay of the flesh, however -- Roth here devotes far more detail to hospital procedures and the art of grave digging than to sex -- reveal more nakedly than ever a novelist who has always snapped the Yahwistic lash of the Old Testament's boss man. Fuck sin: The wages of life are death -- but only after full rations of pain and loss. 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.
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