Seymour Swede Levov - a legendary high school athlete, a devoted family man, a hard worker, the prosperous inheritor of his fathers Newark glove factory - comes of age in thriving, triumphant postwar America. But everything he loves is lost when the country begins to run amok in the turbulent 1960s. Not even the most private, well-intentioned citizens, it seems, gets to sidestep the sweep of history. American Pastoral is the story of a fortunate Americans rise and fall - of a strong, confidenxpectations and perceptions. Still, since 1959, Roth has forged along, crafting gorgeous variations of the Great American Novel and producing, in addition, an autobiography (The Facts) and a non-fictional account of his fathers death (Patrimony: A True Story). Roths novels have been oft characterized as Jewish literature, a stifling distinction that irks Roth to no end. Having grown up in a Jewish household in a lower-middle-class sub-section of Newark, New Jersey, he is incessantly being asked where his seemingly autobiographical characters end and the author begins, another irritant for Roth. He approaches interviewers with an unsettling combination of stoicism, defensiveness, and black wit, qualities that are reflected in his work. For such a high-profile writer, Roth remains enigmatic, seeming to have laid his life out plainly in his writing, but refusing to specify who the real Philip Roth is. Roths debut Goodbye, Columbus instantly established him as a significant writer. This National Book Award winner was a curious compendium of a novella that explored class conflict and romantic relationships and five short stories. Here, fully formed in Roths first outing, was his signature wit, his unflinching insightfulness, and his uncanny ability to satirize his characters situations while also presenting them with humanity. The only missing element of his early work was the outrageousness he would not begin to cultivate until his third full-length novel Portnoys Complaint — an unquestionably daring and funny post-sexual revolution comedy that tipped Roth over the line from critically acclaimed writer to literary celebrity. Even as Roths personal relationships and his relationship to writing were severely shaken following the success of Portnoys Complaint, he continued publishing outrageous novels in the vein of his commercial breakthrough. There was Our Gang, a parodic attack on the Nixon administration, and The Breast, a truly bizarre take on Kafkas Metamorphosis, and My Life as a Man, the pivotal novel that introduced Roths literary alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman. Zuckerman would soon be the subject of his very own series, which followed the writers journey from aspiring young artist with lofty goals to a bestselling author, constantly bombarded by idiotic questions, to a man whose most important relationships have all but crumbled in the wake of his success. The Zuckerman Trilogy (The Ghost Writer, Zuckerman Unbound, and The Counterlife) directly paralls Roths career and unfolds with aching poignancy and unforgiving humor. Zuckerman would later reemerge in another trilogy, although this time he would largely be relegated to the role of narrator. Roths American Trilogy (I Married a Communist, the PEN/Faulkner Award winning The Human Stain, and The Plot Against America), shifts the focus to key moments in the history of late-20th –century American history. In Everyman (2006) , Roth reaches further back into history. Taking its name from a line of 15th-century English allegorical plays, Everyman is classic Roth — funny, tragic, and above all else, human. It is also yet another in a seemingly unbreakable line of critical favorites, praised by Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and The Library Journal. In 2007s highly anticipated Exit Ghost, Roth returned Nathan Zuckerman to his native Manhattan for one final adventure, thus bringing to a rueful, satisfying conclusion one of the most acclaimed literary series of our day. While this may (or may not) be Zuckermans swan song, it seems unlikely that we have seen the last Philip Roth. Long may he roar.
Good To Know
Before publishing his first novel, Roth wrote an episode of the suspenseful TV classic Alfred Hitchcock Presents. A film adaptation of American Pastoral is currently in the works. Australian director Phillip Noyce (Rabbit Proof Fence; Patriot Games) is on board to direct.