Now this is a gas — Gass on Roth

For reasons that will become apparent in 2015, I was digging around this morning about Philip Roth’s The Counterlife, and I ran into this luscious paragraph, which opens William Gass’s review of the novel in the New York Times, January 04, 1987.

THERE have been thousands of different drawings of the world, many maps made of reality. Each puts the gods, the good, the false and the true in a different place. They cannot each be correct – there are too many counterclaims – yet society after society has sailed to greatness (not simply to the doom they also doomed themselves to) following these false charts, these fictions that have been projected upon the planet. And the planet, like the great screen of a drive-in movie, accepts them all, lighted by the illusions of passion, for as long as the passions last. If so, then our lives are made of fictions, beliefs we construct and then dwell in like a beach house in Malibu. When we change our life – one of the central themes of Philip Roth’s magnificent new novel, a remarkable change of direction itself – we recreate ”a counterlife that is one’s own anti-myth,” as Mr. Roth’s protagonist, Nathan Zuckerman, surmises.

And later:

These are a few of the questions Philip Roth’s latest novel considers, turning them round like meat on a spit. With respect to his own past as an author, there are many questions – the hedges, qualifications, objections entertained by critics – to which it gives a resounding answer. ”The Counterlife,” it seems to me, constitutes a fulfillment of tendencies, a successful integration of themes, and the final working through of obsessions that have previously troubled if not marred his work. I hope it felt, as Mr. Roth wrote it, like a triumph, because that is certainly how it reads to me. 

I’m with Gass every step of the way on this. Highly recommended, both review and book.



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