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Habeas Blogus

Book reviews, more for my memory than anything else.

Location: Austin, Texas, United States

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Everyman, by Philip Roth

Started 3/30, finished 4/1

Fear of Death. White Noise was about fear of death. So was The Old Man and the Sea. Hell, nearly every book I've ever read contains at least a component of fear of death. Everyman is nothing but a meditation on this topic, by a writer who's getting up there in years.

I've wondered since I read it, was his purpose just in creating a story about a man who fears death and let the character spring from that, or to create a living, breathing human being first, then force him to confront death?

What I do know is that the effect is quite amazing: the man in question is despicable. In my book they don't get much worse. He's a son-of-a-bitch philanderer who leaves his wife and two kids, then leaves his next wife and one kid, then whines that he's lonely all the time. He follows every stereotype you can imagine about a bastard businessman in the 60s: skirt-chaser, workaholic, dullard, etc.

Yet when it comes to his confrontation with his parents' deaths, the misery rings so true that you have no choice but to sympathise. It's like Jess said about another Roth book: this character, "superficially very different from me...was, by the end of the book, completely known and understandable in my alien brain". This privileged bastard had to throw dirt on his own father's coffin, and while doing it had the hallucination that his father was not in a coffin at all but just lying there, and the dirt was covering his face, getting in his eyes...

...and I don't care who you are or were or hope to be, but that's an image that will stay with me forever. I'm sure when I'm in a similar position, the memory of having read this book will serve as a comfort, that I'm not alone, that... oh my god I can't even finish typing it. Roth dove right in on this, the most terrifying and lonely event in a person's life, and looked it in the face. Jesus Christ I don't think I could ever do that. I wept real tears while reading this book. I can't remember the last time I did that.

By the end you're so exhausted and conflicted you want to read John Steinbeck just to bring some levity to your life. I chose differently, I chose Nelson DeMille.

Book #8 will be the General's Daughter, by Nelson DeMille



Blogger Melissa said...

Man, you do read the fun stuff, don't you?

Wed Apr 18, 02:42:00 PM  

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