Luke Brown in TLS:
When Philip Roth died in 2018 an era of unpalatable writing by men about men seemed to close. Roth, who often wrote about antagonistic relationships, was dogged by accusations of misogyny for his portrayals of women. Carmen Callil, the founder of Virago resigned from the judging panel of the Man Booker International Prize in 2011 when it was given to Roth: “he goes on and on and on about the same subject. It’s as though he’s sitting on your face and you can’t breathe”.
Roth wrote regularly about betrayal: by wives and daughters, and by friends and brothers and Cold War foreign policy and the voting public and antisemites and Puritanism and medicine, by one’s own spine, prostate, penis and heart. But it was for the focus on the penis that Roth was best known, for his willingness to portray masculinity in the unflattering light of desire. In the course of his most extreme and nihilistic novel about lust, Sabbath’s Theatre (1995), Mickey Sabbath remembers the taped phone sex (transcribed word for word) with one of his students that lost him his job, steals a pair of his friend’s daughter’s knickers and tells his wife while trying to seduce her that “there is no punishment too extreme for the crazy bastard who came up with the idea of fidelity”. The novel is shocking in its accumulating vision, though some of the depraved things Sabbath does are simply the result of following the kind of commonplace urges generally kept in check by the male super ego.
When the superego fails, restrictions must be imposed from without. There is a pressure now to avoid the unflattering light, to the extent that you might conclude from reading many recently successful male literary authors that they have “solved the problem of sex”: their male characters have idealized sex drives, or ones we know little about. Meanwhile female writers have taken up the gauntlet, presenting sexual relationships that are real and complex, in which goodness is difficult. Many of us male writers have ceased to describe ourselves honestly, and no longer seem able to present a world in which reconciliation with women is fraught.
Heterosexual male desire has been linked so closely to abuses of power for so long that the two seem inextricable.