Thursday, December 21, 2006

Everyman, by Philip Roth

I heard a review of this book early in the year, when it first came out. Someone had said it was the story of a man's body, and now I know what was meant by that.

Roth's character is so personal, yet impersonal. You learn all about the struggles of a man from his early youth until the day he dies an uneventful death. You become acquainted with him through his appetites and the indulgences thereof. But you are not disgusted by him so much as you pity his personal emptiness.

The main character's name may have been mentioned in the beginning of the book, but it was so far back and never mentioned again that I believe that it was an essential part of the author's creation: a man with no distinguishing characteristics or identity apart from his own search for meaning through pleasure, whether though his vocation or his diversions.

Everyman has a series of affairs, most of which lead to him divorcing a decent women that are named over and over, and marrying his tryst partner, only to cheat on her. You learn the names of all his friends, relatives, and women, but he is a nameless bundle of well-meaning narcissism. He is faithless, not only to his wives, but in general. He has no god. And he dies that way: an old man who is frustrated that the hottie on the beach that he hit on does not call him; and even starts jogging somewhere else to avoid him.

This is a sad story of a man who executes the sexual fantasies of ordinary men, and bleeds the life out of them. It's a good thing Mr. Roth is a good writer, or this would be all depressing morality tale with no room for pitying our anti-hero. And you do pity him because you see too much of yourself in him to loathe him without feeling the pain of being loathed. Most of his children hate him and avoid him, and he is useless to comfort anyone, while no one is left to comfort him. Take prozac before reading. It's three stars for the introspective mental workout, but one star for entertainment.

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