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This would be a dubious distinction had Roth's book not also boldly altered the tone of our confessional writing, most of which had been lugubrious and realistic, smothered in angst and high‐seriousness.Reaching back instead to the raunchy, delirious autobiographical manner of Henry Miller and Céline—indeed, perpetrating an unseemly imitation of the Tatter's great “Death on the Installment Plan”—Roth pitched his anguish in such a low comic strain that the effect was irresistible.It confirms that despite his superb gifte as a mimic, tummler and hyperbolist Roth is only good at fantastioating materials from his own life.
It became obvious that Roth had no power of what critics once called invention; he was unable to inspirit a plot or characters that were the least bit outside his own experience.
In his new book “My Life as a Man,” which deals with the operatically unhappy marriage of a successful young writer, Roth returns to the quasi‐autobiographical mode of “Portnoy” and “Goodbye, Columbus,” and the result is good enough to confirm the misdirection of the last three books, just as “Portnoy” revealed what was misting from the three that preceded it.
Never in our history have Americans been so driven to expose themselves; in our recent revaluation of all values, privacy has been one of the big losers.
Classical psychoanalysis — which, though a “talking cure,” is essentially an interior dialogue, as private as the confession‐box—has been more and more displaced by consciousness‐raising groups, encounter therapies and other techniques which seek an alleviation of guilt and isolation by comparing private lives, not simply exploring one's own.
Unable to combine love and sensuality his men read like textbook cases out of Freud's essay on “The Most Prevalent Form of Degradation in Erotic Life.”However painful this feeling of victimization can be for the man, for a writer it can be peculiarly poisonous if it prevents hire from granting full reality to his characters and from getting any distance on the troubles of his protagonist.
The wife Maureen might as well be a creature from Mars: Peter‐‐and Roth—haven't clue about whet makes her tick, or why he stays and collaborates with her.(A few pages on marriage in the fifties even appeared as an Op‐Ed article in The Times.) He calls this longest section of the book “My True Story” and precedes it with two previously published stories—one very fine, the other tedious and unconvincing—that fictionalize the ‐same material.But the sequence is roughly chronological and can be read as a more or less coherent narrative, a single novel that plays internally (if not very consequentially) on the theme of life and art.“My Life as a Man” thus adds third part (and a third style) to the personal trilogy begun with “Goodbye, Columbus” and “Portnoy's Complaint.” Many earlier characters recur in different guises: Brenda Patimkin becomes Sharon Shatzky, daughter of Al “the Zipper King” Shatzky; Alex Portnoy's parents play recognizable parts as do that famous pampered boyhood and the sexual confusions that followed; even the cartoon‐like Dr.They had more barriers to breach, especially in writing about sex, and though a number of women—some very movingly—hewed to the lugubrious line as if they had invented it, some of the recent best, like Erica Jong and Iris Owens, have developed a style of exuberant comic recollection that enables them not only to talk dirty but to tell it straight, to elude the trap of ax‐grinding and moralizing.Whatever their flaws, novels like “Fear of Flying” and “Aft Unfortunately the same couldn't be said for the subsequent work of Philip Roth, for after “Portnoy” he seems radically to have mistaken his own talents and misread the real breakthrough “Portnoy” represented.Unable to abolish the demon through his work or even to describe it convincingly, though it dominates all his waking thoughts, Peter turns to direct autobiography in a desperate gesture of exorcism.Perhaps the “facts” will speak for themselves and provide relief where the imagination found itself blocked and thwarted. Whatever therapeutic value such a book has for its author, the literary problem remains.This is a digitized version of an article from The Times’s print archive, before the start of online publication in 1996.To preserve these articles as they originally appeared, The Times does not alter, edit or update them.The result of this conversion was three thoroughly dismal and mostly unfunny books, “Our Gang” (an inept, mean‐spirited satire on Nixon), “The Breast” (a grotesque fantasy of sexual metamorphosis and infantile regression) and “The Great American Novel” (an aimless, hyped‐up catalogue of big‐league baseball fantasies).This last book did contain a few marvelous scenes of Paul Bunyanesque Americana, tall tales woven out of the circus side of baseball history, but after a hundred pages Roth lost all notion of what to do next and simply gassed on repetitiously, hoping to be saved by sheer bad taste.