I’d read that Philip Roth was one of the best living American authors, and for a while I’d always had a few of his novels on my ever-growing list of books to read.
I think I decided on Ghost Writer wandering around Strand Bookstore: it was propped up in a featured fiction section, all paperbacks, little handwritten blurbs by the staff in sharpie on a yellow post-its.
The Ghost Writer is the first of his long-running Zuckerman series, and introduces the character as a young writer living in New York, come to visit his literary idol (I.E. Lonoff) at his snowy upstate home. The entire novel takes place over the course of an evening, night and morning as Nathan has dinner and drinks with Lonoff, Lonoff’s wife and a seductive young European student named Amy.
The bulk of the book, however, is composed of various flashbacks and musings by Nathanial concerning his family and youth, Lonoff’s hermit life, and Amy’s mysterious past.
Nathan is plagued by a non-fictional short story he wrote and submitted to various literary magazines that painted his own Jewish family in a light that could easily feed anti-Semitic bigotry (squabbling over money, petty ritual). His father and family friends were incensed, and he goes to Lonoff to seek out an image of what it means to be a modern Jewish literary figure.
Roth has an interesting writing style. At first glance, his prose is pedestrian, competent and smooth, if a bit mundane. But as you continue to read, his flow becomes increasingly lyrical and impressive. He doesn’t ever devolve into stream-of-consciousness rabble – his writing is always clean and precise. But he can string together impressive multi-layer metaphors, that not only paint well the bleak mid-winter landscape but also reveal the inner mindset of his protag (Zuckerman).
The next time I was in Barnes and Noble I picked up American Pastoral – I’m looking forward to it.