The Student of Desire

From The New York Times:

Roth2 In his new novel, “Indignation,” Philip Roth withholds a crucial piece of information — and that’s an understatement — until about a quarter of the way through. This placement seems to me right on the borderline of fair game for reviewers, and not to tell it would misrepresent the book. (A more alert reader than I was might figure it out simply by looking at the table of contents.) Still, it seems mean to spoil a strategic surprise for folks who like that kind of thing. So in case you want to head for the exit now, I’m going to vamp for a couple of paragraphs of harmless generalities and evasive plot summary before getting specific. Roth has a couple more surprises, too (which you might see coming but probably won’t), and I promise not to get anywhere near those. Anyhow, isn’t it surprising enough that Roth, now 75, has just published his third novel in three years?

Well, at this point, maybe not. Since “Sabbath’s Theater” in 1995, Roth has written eight novels, including two general-consensus masterworks — “American Pastoral” (1997) and “Everyman” (2006) — the conclusion of his long Zuckerman saga (last year’s “Exit Ghost”) and a half-dozen other exceptionally strong books. And in “Indignation,” his power and intensity seem undiminished. I generally prefer Roth’s short, devastating sex-and-mortality novels — “Every­man,” “Exit Ghost,” “The Dying Animal” (2001) — to his larger social/political/historical excursions — “American Pastoral,” “The Human Stain” (2000), “The Plot Against America” (2004) — although I admit the big books are more fun to read, since they offer a richer menu of topical distractions from what’s ultimately in store for each of us. “Indignation,” set during the Korean War in a small, conservative Ohio college — hat-tippingly named Winesburg — has something in common with both Rothian modes. It evokes a nasty period of America’s social history (you know, as opposed to all those idyllic ones), but like Roth’s two previous novels, it’s also ruthlessly economical and relentlessly deathbound.

More here.