Saturday, September 26, 2015

Zuckerman Unbound [1981]

Nathan Zuckerman, Roth’s psychologically, morally and artistically complex alter-ego, was a budding writer of considerable promise and in love with the Great Books, when he made the unforgettable trip to E.I. Lonoff’s secluded house in The Ghost Writer. He’s in his mid-30s now, and with his fourth book Carnovsky he’s attained what Roth himself did with his groundbreaking masterpiece on neurosis, guilt and angst, Portnoy’s Complaint –commercial success, critical adulation and public notoriety all at once; no cookies for guessing that the former was a direct reference to the latter. While the publication has suddenly made him an extremely wealthy man, its ribald and satiric portrayal of Jewish Americans has earned him scorn and even hatred from that community; the fact that he’s just had his third divorce, his disagreements with his upright father goes back a number of years, and he finds himself attracted to a striking but mysterious actress, clearly indicated the limbo in which his personal life is stuck. And, to make things really comical, he makes two oddball acquaintances – Alvin Poppler, a garrulous crackpot with an encyclopedic memory and severe personal complexes, who’d once earned fame in a rigged TV quiz show until the producers dumped him in favour of a blond WASP, and who literally thrusts himself upon Zuckerman; and an anonymous caller and admirer of his talent who demands a hefty ransom from him, and makes ominous threats while maintaining his dislike for violence. Meanwhile, his father, who was extremely sensitive about the Jewish condition and hence could never accept his writing, is on deathbed, which makes him take a trip from New York to Florida physically, while to his formative years in Newark in his memories. Influences of Bellow’s masterful Humboldt’s Gift on the earlier Zuckerman chapter (mentor-protégé relationship) and this (counterpointing the respectability of a litterateur with a social outsider), among other thematic resemblances,  are discernible, but Roth’s creation and his voice – brutally funny, intensely self-deprecatory, polarizing, self-reflexive, unapologetic and politically brave – were unequivocally his own.

Author: Philip Roth
Genre: Black Comedy/Social Satire/Bildungsroman
Language: English
Country: US

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