There is, as the folks in the head trades might say, a lot of rage in Philip Roth. What, one wonders, is he so angry about? As a writer, he seems to have had a pretty good roll of the dice. His first book, the collection of stories entitled Goodbye, Columbus, published when he was twenty-six, was a very great critical success; in brilliance, his literary debut was second in modern America perhaps only to that of Delmore Schwartz. (“Unlike those of us who came howling into the world, blind and bare,” wrote Saul Bellow in COMMENTARY, “Mr. Roth appears with nails, hair, and teeth, speaking coherently. At twenty-six he is skillful, witty, and energetic and performs like a virtuoso.”) After two further novels, Letting Go (1962) and When She Was Good (1967), he wrote Portnoy's Complaint (1969), a succès fou, a tremendous hit both critically (“It's a marvelously entertaining book,” wrote Theodore Solotaroff, “and one that mines a narrow but central vein more deeply than it has ever been done before”), and commercially (it was a bestseller of a kind that removes a writer permanently from the financial wars). One recalls the protagonist of Saul Bellow's Henderson the Rain King, regularly muttering, “I want! I want! I want!” Philip Roth, who at an early age had critical attention, wealth, and celebrity, continues to mutter, “It isn't enough. It isn't enough. It isn't enough.”
What does Philip Roth want? For one thing, he wishes to be recognized as a great writer, the natural successor to Gogol and Chekhov and Kafka. He wishes also to have the right to strike out against the bourgeoisie—particularly the Jewish bourgeoisie—and to be adored for his acute perceptions of it. And he wishes to have appreciated what he takes to be the universal application of his own experience as it has been transformed by the imagination in his several novels. Recognition, adoration, appreciation—all this would be his if people would only understand what his work is really about. Or so he believes, and so he would have us believe. But thus far all too few people do understand. In fact, they don't seem to understand at all.
Not that Philip Roth, in his many interviews about his work, has neglected to enlighten them. The Roth modus operandi is to publish an interview around the time each of his new books appears, or shortly thereafter, and in these interviews meticulously explain what the book is about, what the influences behind it have been, and what its place is in the Roth canon. Sometimes other writers interview Roth; on occasion he interviews himself. In some cases—Our Gang (1971), The Breast (1972), The Great American Novel (1973)—the interviews are rather better than the novels. (Did you read the novel? No, but I saw the interview.) One thing is clear: Philip Roth is far and away the most generous critic we have of the writings of Philip Roth.
It may be useful to keep this in mind because when reading the novels of Philip Roth one discovers that he is not all that generous to anyone else. Make no mistake, he is an immensely talented writer. He is always very readable. He has a fine eye for the detail and texture of social scenery. He has a splendid ear and an accompanying gift of mimicry, which allows him to do the Jews in a thousand voices. He is famously funny, dangerously funny, as Mel Brooks once characterized the kind of humor that can cause strokes from laughter. He has a most solid literary education. Philip Roth has in fact everything but one thing: a generous spirit. Reading through his work, however, one begins to wonder if, in the case of a novelist, this one thing may not perhaps be the main thing.
Randall Jarrell once wittily defined a novel as “a prose narrative of some length that has something wrong with it,” and there has certainly been no shortage of critics ready to declare various things wrong with Philip Roth's novels. Many a rabbi took to his pulpit to denounce the treatment of Jews in Goodbye, Columbus. Letting Go was in more than one quarter found sententious, Henry James on the graduate-school level, a point nicely caught in “Marjorie Morningstar Ph.D.,” the title of John Gross's New Statesman review of the novel. Reviewing When She Was Good in COMMENTARY (November 1967), Robert Alter noted of the characters in this, Roth's third book, that “Humanity is divided into those who are hateful and those who are merely contemptible. . . .” At the close of a review of Roth's slender novel The Breast (1972), Frederick Crews offered a two-for-one critical sale, writing in a single sentence: “In a sense The Breast is a more discouraging work than the straightforwardly vicious Our Gang [Roth's 1971 travesty of Richard Nixon].”
Philip Roth, then, has taken his critical lumps. But the deepest and unkindest cut of all came from Irving Howe, who, in an essay in COMMENTARY entitled “Philip Roth Reconsidered” (December 1972), quite consummately eviscerated all Roth's work. Howe pointed out that Roth's “great need is for a stance of superiority,” that one reason his stories “are unsatisfactory is that they come out of a thin personal culture,” that “the cruelest thing anyone can do with Portnoy's Complaint is to read it twice,” that such literary narcissism as Roth has displayed throughout his career “is especially notable among minor artists, with whom it frequently takes the form of self-exemptive attacks on the shamefulness of humanity,” and so on and on. When Howe is done, he has allowed that he thinks well of a single Roth short story, “Defender of the Faith.”
I used the word eviscerate to describe this essay; its effect was as though Dr. Howe, working over the corpus of Roth's work, had removed all the patient's major organs, leaving only a small portion—that one short story—of the spleen. This essay, as we shall see, has left Philip Roth in the spiritual equivalent of intensive care for the more than a decade since it was written.
I have said that Philip Roth is always very readable, but I have recently learned that (as Howe pointed out) he is not very rereadable. Trial by rereading is a tough test for a novelist, and I am not sure exactly what it proves, except of course that it is obviously better to write books that can be reread with pleasure than not. (Ezra Pound once distinguished between journalism and literature by saying that literature could be read twice.) Roth, on a second reading, begins to seem smaller; one starts to notice glancing and low blows. In Goodbye, Columbus, for example, a cheap point is scored off Mrs. Patimkin, the mother of the family of rich and vulgar Jews who it is fair to say are the target of the novella, because she has never heard of Martin Buber. “Is he reformed?” she asks. The assumption here is that people who do not know the name of Martin Buber are swine, like people who listen to the recordings of Kostelanetz and Mantovani. The term for the thinking behind this assumption is intellectual snobbery, and of a fairly low order. In the novella Brenda Patimkin remarks to Neil Klugman, its protagonist, “Why do you always sound a little nasty to me!” This seems to me a good question.
Or, again, in rereading When She Was Good I discovered myself feeling an unexpected rush of sympathy for that novel's main character, the moralizing and man-destroying Lucy Nelson. For all that Lucy Nelson is mean-spirited and endlessly judgmental, throughout the novel there is someone meaner and even more judgmental on her tail—her creator, the author. The novel is relentless, ending with Lucy Nelson's death in the cold, a chilling performance in every sense. Mighty is the wrath of the Lord; but the wrath of Roth, for those of his characters on whom he spews it—from the Patimkins to Lucy Nelson, to Jack and Sophie Portnoy, to assorted lady friends in various of the novels, to the critic Milton Appel in the recent The Anatomy Lesson1—is not so easily borne either.
A highly self-conscious writer, the early Philip Roth no doubt felt the weight of his own crushing moralizing. True, in his first book he was moralizing against moralizing—yet it was still moralizing. Moral tunes were the ones he had been trained to dance to. “I was,” Roth has written, “one of those students of the 50's who came to books by way of a fairly good but rather priestly literary education, in which writing poems and novels was assumed to eclipse all else in what we called ‘moral seriousness.’” The year before, in an interview with himself, he announced: “I imagined fiction to be something like a religious calling, and literature a kind of sacrament, a sense of things I have had reason to modify since.” What may have caused Roth to modify his sense of moral earnestness was the unrelieved gloom in which it issued in such novels as Letting Go and When She Was Good. Roth's early fiction was about what he construed to be the coercive forces in life—family, religion, culture. At some point he decided that among those coercive forces he had to add another: his own literary moral seriousness.
Near the end of the 1960's, that time of many liberations, Philip Roth achieved his own with the publication of Portnoy's Complaint. Toward the middle of Goodbye, Columbus the hero notes: “I am not one to stick scalpels in myself”; henceforth, Roth's heroes will comport themselves as if taking acupuncture with scalpels. Of course, to blame the guilt of Alexander Portnoy, a guilt beginning in ceaseless masturbation, issuing in an adult case of raging sex fever, and closing in impotence—to blame this guilt on Portnoy's Jewish middle-class upbringing was certain to put Roth in solid with the Jewish friends he had already made through Goodbye, Columbus. Dwelling on masturbation, fellatio, cunnilingus, and other features of what H. L. Mencken once referred to as “non-Euclidean sex,” the novel was deliberately in atrocious taste. It read rather like a more literate and extended Lenny Bruce skit. It was meant to cause the squeamish to squirm, the righteous to rave—and by and large succeeded in doing so. If Berkeley was what happened to the university during the 60's, Andy Warhol what happened to contemporary art, Portnoy's Complaint was what happened to American Jewish fiction.
For Philip Roth, Portnoy's Complaint was evidently, in one of the cant phrases of the day, a breakthrough. Suddenly, the sexual subject, with all its taboos shattered, was now fully his to command; suddenly, in his use of material and language, he was little boy blue. He had also developed a new tone, a detached intimacy such as a practiced analysand might adopt with his therapist. Psychoanalysts—variously called Spielvogel, Klinger, and other German names—will henceforth appear in Roth's novels, while Roth himself will come to view the psychoanalytic as an important mode of apprehending reality. Roth's explanation of the meaning of Portnoy reflects this clearly enough, when he says, in yet another of his interviews, that the book “which was concerned with the comic side of the struggle between a hectoring superego and an ambitious id, seems now, in retrospect, to have realigned those forces as they act upon my imagination.”
I myself prefer not to hear novelists using words like superego and id. Whatever aid they may bring to the suffering, however necessary they may be to the discourse of therapeutic workers, they are death on art, and on no art are they more deadly than fiction. Novelists do better to speak of morals and desire, of conscience and soul. The later Roth has, I believe, shed his true-believer views of psychoanalysis; in his most recent novel, The Anatomy Lesson, he seems to have shucked them off nearly altogether. But he has retained certain of the habits of the analysand—classically conceived, as they say down at the Institute—not the least of which is an unshakable belief in the importance of sex and an implacable confidence in the significance of one's own splendid self.
Although I have not taken an exact count, it strikes me that, along with John Updike and Norman Mailer, Philip Roth is a hot entry in the sweepstakes for the most fornication described within the pages of a single body of serious work. (Edmund Wilson once grouped a number of novelists of the 30's as “The Boys in the Back Room”; Updike, Mailer, Roth, and perhaps William Styron, all writers with a puerile interest in sex, might be thought of as The Men in the Boys' Room.) By now a practiced hand, Roth can describe sex as easily as Dickens could describe London, though the views Dickens offers are more interesting. Roth has mastered his technique to the point where he can advance his plots through dialogue while keeping his characters in flagrante. All this is by design. Roth has said that the direction his work has taken “since Portnoy's Complaint can in part be accounted for by my increased responsiveness to, and respect for, what is unsocialized in me.”
Yet it isn't the sheer volume of sex in Roth's novels that is troubling; one feels, rather, that sex is one of the few subjects left to him, and that it has now begun to qualify as an uninteresting obsession. Like cityscapes to Bellow, so bed-scapes to Roth; one senses he could do them in his sleep, and after a short while one wishes he would. I. B. Singer is a novelist quite as concerned with sex as Philip Roth, but, it seems to me, with a decisive difference. In Singer's fiction, the pleasures of sex mix with the terrors of guilt and sin, and somewhere off in the distance you feel perhaps God is watching. In a Roth novel, sex has to do with a writer paying respect to his “unsocialized side,” and somewhere off in the distance you can hear a pen scratching.
You hear a pen scratching because, as a novelist, Philip Roth has lived for some while pretty close to the autobiographical bone. The relationship between fictional representation and autobiographical sources is endlessly complicated, and can usually only be properly understood by a literary biographer willing to spend decades with his subject. How much of Stendhal is in Julien Sorel, how much of Balzac in Lucien Chardon, how much of Tolstoy in Levin? The more contemporary the age, the more complex, and the more crucial, the question seems to grow. How much James Joyce in Stephen Dedalus, how much Proust in the Marcel of Remembrance of Things Past, how much of Kafka in Joseph K? The closer we get to our own day, the smaller the gap between the fictional and the autobiographical seems to be. A remark by E. R. Curtius goes a good way toward explaining the impetus behind this phenomenon. “Since Chateaubriand's René,” Curtius writes, “literature has preferred to deal with the conflicts of the individual, the shipwreck of ideals, the disillusionment of the heart, the quarrel with society.” All the items Curtius mentions, from the conflict within the individual to the quarrel with society, cry out to be dealt with directly, shorn of the mediating screen of fictional representation. And dealing directly with such things in fiction often means dealing with them in a highly autobiographical manner.
This is a touchy point for Philip Roth, who again and again has accused his critics and readers of confusing his life and his work. The confusion set in with a fine vengeance, he claims, with Portnoy's Complaint, when “a novel in the guise of a confession was received and judged by any number of readers as a confession in the guise of a novel.” In an essay entitled “Portnoy's Fame—and Mine,” Roth has told how, not long after the enormous success of Portnoy's Complaint, when Roth himself had become a gossip-column item, at one point romantically linked (I believe the phrase is) with Barbra Streisand, the rumor circulated that he had had a nervous breakdown—which, as he notes, given the original confusion between the author and the protagonist of Portnoy's Complaint, makes a certain amount of sense, madness being the end preordained for onanists.
Time and again, in interviews and essays and now even in his fiction, Roth has gone on insisting that he is not, in his novels, writing about Philip Roth, except through the transmutations of art. “That writing is an act of imagination,” says Nathan Zuckerman in The Anatomy Lesson, “seems to perplex and infuriate everyone.” Roth has spoken of readers getting a “voyeuristic kick” from reading his autobiography into his books. I think “voyeuristic kick” is exactly the correct phrase, and my first response to it is that, if a writer doesn't wish to supply such kicks, perhaps he would do better not to undress before windows opening onto thoroughfares.
Yet one wonders if voyeuristic kicks are not precisely at the heart of Roth's recent novels (as well as those of other contemporary novelists). In an odd conjunction of circumstances, while novels seem to mean less and less to the way people live, at the same time a number of novelists have become celebrity figures: through television appearances, magazine interviews, gossip sheets. These novelists can hardly be unaware of their celebrity, however much they may say they do not like it, and they also ought to be aware that readers—and quite intelligent readers, too—will see the novelists' lives in their work, especially when the writer has taken so little trouble to disguise himself. If there is anyone in the world who believes that the hero of Saul Bellow's The Dean's December is anyone other than Saul Bellow, I should like to meet that person and have the opportunity to sell him some mining stock. If there is anyone who believes that young Stingo in Sophie's Choice is not the young William Styron, that person brings a freshness and an innocence to his reading that I believe borders on insanity. It is a cheap thrill but nonetheless one very much for the taking, this reading of gossip about famous novelists in—of all places—their own novels.
In short, it is the novelists who make this gossip, these voyeuristic kicks, possible in the first place. If they don't wish so to be read, the way out is through invention, imagination, fresh creation, greater subtlety. Another prospect, however, is simply to give way, to write about oneself almost straight-out, to cultivate the idiosyncratic vision, to plow away at one's own obsessions, becoming a bit of a crank, something of a crackpot, and risk being a minor writer indeed. Alas, I think this is the path that Philip Roth has set himself upon.
After Portnoy's Complaint Roth wrote two satires, the one about Nixon, Our Gang, and The Great American Novel, about baseball. Such works are known as jeux d'esprits; when they fail, as these two do for being excessively heavy-handed and insufficiently funny, they are also known as regrettable. There followed The Breast (1972), in which David Kepesh, a professor of English—surprising that Roth didn't make him a CUNY linguist—wakes up in a hospital to find himself turned into a breast. Kepesh feels that he got into this fix through reading fiction. He has been teaching Kafka and Gogol. “The books I've been teaching—they put the idea in my head.” He asks: “Why this primitive identification with the object of infantile veneration?” Perhaps, he thinks, “Success itself! There is what I couldn't take—a happy life!” Other theories are tried out. Kepesh's psychoanalyst is consulted. To no avail. The reason David Kepesh has become a breast remains unknown both within the story and outside it. With The Breast, Philip Roth's problem has officially become identifying Philip Roth's problem.
At this point Roth's fictional works, like runny cooked vegetables on a plate, begin to bleed into one another. Three Roth protagonists come on the scene: Nathan Zuckerman, Peter Tarnopol, and, not yet breastified, David Kepesh. A Chinese-box effect sets in. In My Life as a Man (1974) we are presented with a story written by Peter Tarnopol about the sexual adventures of the young Nathan Zuckerman; this Nathan Zuckerman will return as the author of a shocking bestseller about sexual liberation entitled Carnovsky, which sounds like nothing so much as Portnoy's Complaint. But back at My Life as a Man, Peter Tarnopol's editor asks him: “Is that what you're up to, or are you planning to write Zuckerman variations until you have constructed a kind of full-length fictional fugue?” By now, Philip Roth has written three books about this Nathan Zuckerman character. All that remains to complete the circle is for Peter Tarnopol to write a novel in which David Kepesh is teaching a year-long honors seminar on the novels of Philip Roth.
These characters have a number of qualities in common: they are bookish (two are writers, one a teacher of writing), Jewish, single, past or current analysands and hence mightily self-regarding, great prizers of their personal freedom (two have had disastrous first marriages, one, Nathan Zuckerman, has had three marriages about two of which not much is said), fearful of a great deal but above all of personal entrapment. Their characteristic condition is to feel put upon; their characteristic response is to whine and complain. Much of their time on the page is spent in the effort of self-analysis through which they hope to arrive at self-justification. Oh, yes, one other thing: for the above-mentioned reasons, none is in any way easy to sympathize with.
Reading these novels, one begins to sense with what pleasure a psychoanalyst must look forward to knocking off at the end of the day. It's a small world, that of the patient—it has, really, only one person of importance in it. So, too, with Roth's novels which feel so terribly underpopulated, confined, claustral. One admires their sentences, picks up on their jokes, notes the craft that went into their making, and finishes reading them with a slight headache and a sour taste in the mouth. One puts them down, finally, in not so different a condition, one assumes, from the psychoanalyst picking up his briefcase, sighing, and flicking off the light in the office; only, unlike the analyst, one has not been so well rewarded for the day's work.
Not that these novels are without brilliant passages and portraits. In the second section of My Life as a Man, the section entitled “Courting Disaster (or, Serious in the Fifties),” Nathan Zuckerman contracts a mistaken marriage for chiefly literary reasons. To escape his own cozy Jewish middle-class upbringing, to meet experience such as it is met in literature, he is drawn to a sad, broken woman, a perfect mismatch, chiefly because “she had suffered so much and because she was so brave.” But this section of the novel, so beautifully done, is blown when, after many nightmarish years in the marriage, Zuckerman runs off to Italy with his very young stepdaughter. The appropriate reference is made to Nabokov. Roth and his characters have books on the brain, and not only great literature but criticism into the bargain. Zuckerman says of himself: “Where Emma Bovary had read too many romances of her period, it would seem that I had read too much of the criticism of mine.”
In his later novels, Roth regularly measures himself against the great literary figures of the past, attempting to discover with whom among them he belongs. Peter Tarnopol is a great admirer of Flaubert, though at one point in My Life as a Man he notes: “I'll try a character like Henry Miller, or someone out-and-out bilious like Celine for my hero instead of Gustave Flaubert—and won't be such an Olympian writer as it was my ambition to be back in the days when nothing called personal experience stood between me and aesthetic detachment.” David Kepesh has a case on Kafka, and in The Professor of Desire pays a visit to the aged prostitute in Prague to whom Kafka was said to bring his custom. (No one ever said Philip Roth wasn't inventive.) In The Anatomy Lesson Nathan Zuckerman recalls his undergraduate experience of the magisterial, and majestic, presence of Thomas Mann lecturing on literature at the University of Chicago, and gauges how far his own artistic aspirations have fallen since that time. The way other people look to religion and philosophy, Roth and his heroes look to literature. “Literature got me into this,” says Zuckerman in one of the sections of My Life as a Man, “and literature is gonna get me out.” Thus far, it must be reported, it hasn't.
“Moral delinquency has its fascination for you,” says Dr. Klinger, David Kepesh's analyst, and so it does for Philip Roth. In Roth's later novels, though, moral delinquency has almost exclusively meant sexual delinquency. Roth himself, in an interview published around the time of The Breast, formulated the moral war of his characters as “between the ethical and social yearnings and the implacable, singular lusts for the flesh and its pleasures.” Yet in this particular war Philip Roth is in the embarrassing position of one of those Japanese soldiers holed up on a Pacific island, still polishing his boots and cleaning his rifle, who hasn't yet heard that the war between ethical and social yearnings and sexual appetite is long over. Ethical and social yearnings lost and sexual appetite promptly departed.
More and more of Roth's subject is falling away from him, like the hair on Nathan Zuckerman's head in The Anatomy Lesson. In My Life as a Man this same Zuckerman is said to have written a novel, filled with “moral indignation,” entitled A Jewish Father. Roth himself, in such portraits as those of Mrs. Patimkin, Aunt Gladys, Sophie Portnoy, and others has been putting together a bitter volume that might be entitled World of Our Mothers. Now, however, that generation, in whose rage for order Roth read repression and perhaps unintended but nonetheless real malevolence, is old and dying and hardly any longer worth railing against. Even Roth appears to have recognized this, and some of the few touching moments in his later fiction—the scenes with David Kepesh's widowed father in My Life as a Man, memories of Nathan Zuckerman's mother in Zuckerman Unbound and The Anatomy Lesson—are tributes to the generation of his own parents.
When a writer has used up all other subjects within the realm of his experience, one subject remains—that of writing itself. Philip Roth's last three novels—the Zuckerman trilogy—are about precisely this subject. The first, The Ghost Writer, much of which takes place at the home of the ascetic writer E.I. Lonoff, is about the toll in loneliness and self-abnegation that the writing life exacts. Being a Roth novel, The Ghost Writer is not without its comic touches, or without its attempts to épater les juifs. In the latter category, the Zuckerman character imagines bringing home Anne Frank as his wife—the one sure way to please his parents, who are already aggrieved at what they construe to be his abetting of anti-Semitism by publishing stories about the seamier side of the family. Playing Anne Frank for laughs is Roth the bad boy at it again, attempting to make the Jews squirm. He cannot seem to help himself on this score. He can't leave it alone.
Zuckerman Unbound, the second Zuckerman novel, is about the wages paid for large-scale success in America, in this case paid out to Nathan Zuckerman for writing his shocking bestseller Carnovsky. The coin in which these wages are paid is that of the unwanted company of hustlers, intrusive idiotic publicity, and family misunderstanding. Here again one begins to feel many autobiographical teases. Did Roth's parents react to Portnoy as Zuckerman's did to Carnovsky? Does Roth feel the same petulance about publicity as Zuckerman? “Never trust the artist. Trust the tale,” pronounced D. H. Lawrence. Yet the more it becomes apparent that there is little to choose between tale and teller, the more one ends up trusting neither. Part of the burden of The Anatomy Lesson, it seems to me, is that Roth may no longer trust either himself.
A long while ago Philip Roth removed the fig leaf; now, in The Anatomy Lesson, off—or nearly off—comes the mask. In this novel Nathan Zuckerman is suffering a great unexplained pain in his back and neck. So great is the pain that he cannot write. He can, though, while settled on his back upon a rubber mat on his living-room floor, carry on love affairs with four different women. But these affairs do not absorb him nearly so deeply as does an attack written on his work by a Jewish intellectual critic he once admired by the name of Milton Appel that appeared in the magazine Inquiry. Not many people will need to know this, but Milton Appel is another name for Irving Howe and Inquiry is intended to be COMMENTARY. A few details have been shifted here and there, some with an almost pathetic indifference: Howe's essay on Roth appeared in COMMENTARY in December 1972, Appel's on Zuckerman in March 1973. (What extraordinary transformations art can make!) I am sure a number of characters are invented, touches and twists are added, nothing is quite as it was in life, but at its center this is a roman à clef—one that is being used, through gross caricature and straight insult, to repay an old wound.
It is also a roman of clay. The only points of interest have to do with the sense it conveys that Philip Roth himself may feel he can go no further in this vein. He has written himself into a corner and up a wall. “There's nothing more wearying,” Zuckerman tells a friend, “than having to go around pretending to be the author of one's own books—except pretending not to be.” Elsewhere he remarks: “If you get out of yourself you can't be a writer because the personal ingredient is what gets you going, and if you hang on to the personal ingredient any longer you'll disappear right up your [orifice deleted].” And later he adds: “Chained to my dwarf drama till I die. Stories now about Milton Appel? Fiction about losing my hair? I can't face it.” Neither, for much longer, I suspect, can we.
When, with Portnoy's Complaint, Philip Roth's career took its turn toward investigating the inner life, Roth must have thought he was on his way to becoming the Jewish Gogol, the American Kafka. But it has not worked out. Roth's fictional figures lack the requisite weight; they aren't clown-heroes out of Kafka or Gogol who have somehow been tricked by life, the butt of some towering cosmic joke. A character who is having love affairs with four women and wishes to get his own back at a literary critic—this is not, as Philip Roth the teacher of literature himself must know, exactly a figure of universal significance. No, it has not worked out. Portnoy's Complaint ended on the couch, with the psychiatrist remarking to Alex Portnoy, “Now vee may perhaps to begin. Yes?” The Anatomy Lesson ends with Nathan Zuckerman, determined to give up writing for a career in medicine, helping the interns in the hospital in which he himself is a patient. I should have preferred to see it, too, end in a psychoanalyst's office, with the analyst announcing to Portnoy-Tarnopol-Kepesh-Zuckerman-Roth: “Now, vee are concluded. Vee haf gone as far as vee can go. Yes?”
1 Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 291 pp., $14.95.