“Late Roth” sounds a little like “late monopoly capitalism”—neither shows much evidence of frailty—yet one can now see that a phase of work opened with his great, wild novel “Sabbath’s Theater” (1995), in which the struggle between the vitality of sex and the fatality of the body was newly acute. For Mickey Sabbath, there is a constant veering between what he calls “the fantasy of endlessness” and “the fact of finitude.” Roth’s work since then has returned again and again to these two gates of being, one ever open and one ever closing. Ranged against the fact of death, against the body’s decline, the “fantasy of endlessness” means the ceaseless, self-renewing male urge to have sex; it also means the Rothian need to offend and offend and offend “the laudable ideologies”; and it means the ordinary human desire, as one ages, to bring back the dead—one’s parents, siblings, spouses, lovers—and keep them endlessly alive, and thus to live outside time. In Roth’s terms, sex can do all this at once: it restores unruly and unbiddable life, symbolically immortalizing the self by winding back the clock of finitude. And the novelist, of all people, is supremely endowed with the magical power to bring the dead to life on the page, which is one reason that this work has been so consumed with questions of artifice and fictionality.
more from The New Yorker here.