Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Hope I Die before I Get Old -- a Book Review Exit Ghost by Philip Roth

Following prostate surgery, 71-year-old Nathan Zuckerman is left both impotent and incontinent. There's a possible solution for the latter but none for the former, leaving our sex-obsessed protagonist in a state of bittersweet agony when he becomes infatuated with a young woman who has swapped homes with him, along with her husband. Predictably, Nathan fantasizes about Jamie and Roth creates two different types of dialogue -- one that Nathan has with her in real life and the other that he has with her in his head, or rather in his journal.

The young woman is contrasted with Amy Bellette, the lover of Manny Lonoff who Nathan found entrancing when she was a young girl in The Ghost Writer. He coincidentally encounters the adult Amy in Manhattan; he's shocked and saddened by her terrible appearance and the toll that brain cancer has taken on her.

Meanwhile, a brash young journalist friend of Jamie's contacts Nathan, determined to solicit his help in writing a biography of Lonoff. This "bio," Zuckerman soon learns, consists of a dreadful exposé about a supposed sordid incident in Lonoff's life. Nathan launches into a long diatribe with his long-lost friend Amy about what constitutes good literature and questions the right of authors to peer into the private lives of other authors. He goes one step further, suggesting that book groups and classrooms should stop analyzing books (I don't think Nathan would appreciate this review, which I just crossposted on Amazon !!!), but he certainly poses interesting and important questions for us to consider.

Having been a rabid fan of Philip Roth's for the last several decades, I read as many books of his as I can. This one was good -- not fantastic because it dragged on in certain parts, but he did a beautiful job of describing the way that the body eventually gives out over time, but the heart continues to hunger for love, passion, recognition and the ability to make a significant contribution to the world.