Daniel Mendelsohn on Philip Roth

From the New York Review of Books:

At the beginning of Philip Roth’s 1979 novella The Ghost Writer, the twenty-three-year-old narrator, Nathan Zuckerman, tremulously approaches the secluded New England home of a famous but reclusive Jewish writer, E.I. Lonoff. Of this Lonoff we are told that he has long ago forsaken his urban, immigrant roots—the cultural soil from which, we are meant to understand, his vaguely Bashevis Singeresque fiction sprang—for “a clapboard farmhouse…at the end of an unpaved road twelve hundred feet up in the Berkshires.” Long out of circulation, he is considered comical by New York literary people for having “lived all these years ‘in the country’—that is to say, in the goyish wilderness of birds and trees where America began and long ago had ended.” Still, young Nathan, an aspiring novelist, admires Lonoff extravagantly, not only because of “the tenacity that had kept him writing his own kind of stories all that time,” but because

having been “discovered” and popularized, he refused all awards and degrees, declined membership in all honorary institutions, granted no public interviews, and chose not to be photographed, as though to associate his face with his fiction were a ridiculous irrelevancy.

A young man’s admiration; a young man’s perhaps self-congratulatory idealization of a figure who, it is all too clear, he would like one day to be.

If, thirty years ago, readers felt safe in identifying the ingenuous, ambitious, hugely talented Newark-born Nathan Zuckerman with his creator, anyone familiar with Roth’s recent biography will find it difficult not to identify the author today with Lonoff.

More here.