rereading roth

RothGeorge O'Brien at The Dublin Review of Books:

In the beginning was Newark. Everything that Philip Roth turned to such rich account in his great final spate of works inaugurated by American Pastoral is not only set in his native place but from the start derived its moral energy and edge from it. The city of Newark and especially the Weequahic neighbourhood, the local spaces that reflect the intricate geography of class and ethnicity, the mentalities of old Jews and their superannuated ways and of new Jews with their suburban affluence and unacknowledged assimilation anxieties, men’s moral crossroads and the unreasonable and irrational women who supply the materials for them – that repertoire of essential Roth concerns and interests is as central to Goodbye, Columbus (1959), his first book, whose eponymous novella made his name, as to the novels that crown his achievement forty years later. But instead of devoting himself to that repertoire’s potential, Roth wandered far and wide, following in Henry James’s footsteps in the long, slow, rather airless Letting Go (1962), doing a Mark Twain in Our Gang (1971), and in general trying a lot of modes and tones without ever seeming quite to satisfy the demands of harnessing his talent’s restless fluency to his smarts, his savvy, his wit and his ideas. He was out of Newark, but what did that mean? – See more at:

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