Zuckerman Abridged

Max Ross in The New Yorker:

ZuckIn the late fall of 2004, Nathan Zuckerman, the American-Jewish novelist whose fictions aggressively scrutinized Jewish values (and subsequently caused him to be ostracized from the Jewish community), was found dead in his country estate—evidently the result of complications following a neurosurgical procedure. He was eighty-one years old. At the time, a number of mysteries remained concerning Zuckerman’s life. Why had he fled Manhattan for rural Massachusetts? How, after a series of marriages, had he come to live alone? After his novel “Carnovsky” made him rich and famous, had he merely quit publishing his work, or had he stopped writing altogether? While it was assumed these questions would never be answered, the recent discovery of hundreds of notebooks and journals hidden throughout Zuckerman’s home in the Berkshires explains, at least in part, the seclusion and silence that marked his final thirty-five years. Consumed by depression after his father’s death, in 1969, the author was, for a time, unable to produce anything he considered of value; and by the nineteen-nineties, when he began writing again, a neurodegenerative disorder was unravelling his mind. As a quartet of unearthed novels demonstrates, much of his prose was incoherent. Nevertheless, the notebooks and manuscripts provide an intimate glimpse of the author’s heretofore undocumented life—a life marked by ongoing filial resentment, self-deception, and tendencies toward seclusion buoyed by periods of intense sexual compulsion.

Nathan Zuckerman was born in 1933 in Newark, New Jersey, the son of Victor, an overbearingly permissive chiropodist, and Selma, a lover of gardening and mahjongg. He was followed four years later by Henry, who adored Nathan, although they became estranged later in life. The Zuckermans’ was a typical American Jewish household of the era. They believed that happiness could be attained only through academic achievement; that anti-Semitism was more muted than before, but still ubiquitous. Around the dinner table, Nathan’s parents discussed the perils of intermarriage, the problem of Santa Claus, and the injustice of medical-school quotas. From an early age Nathan collected donations door-to-door for the Jewish National Fund, and learned Hebrew at the Talmud Torah on Schley Street. All his friends were Jewish, all his schoolteachers were Jewish, and, to a boy who seldom left his neighborhood, the entire world seemed Jewish—suffocatingly so.

More here.