Tuesday, July 08, 2008
I'd not read Roth in some time, and found at Deadalus for a good price the Library of America volume entitled Zuckerman Bound. Ghost Writer is the first novel in the volume, though it is actually a novella.
An easy way to hook me into a story is to mimic in style and tone and theme the late short stories of Henry James. Roth does so here, and even uses a common James situation: the young admirer of a great artist manages a meeting with his hero and learns hard lessons about sacrifice and gift.
Nathan Zuckerman is 23 and eager to launch his career. Already after having published a handful of short fiction he has been talked up by The Saturday Evening Post. One of his literary heroes is a Mr. Lonoff, and Zuckerman lands the opportunity to meet Lonoff at the master's home, where he witnesses the traumatic effects of a life dedicated to Art. Zuckerman himself is beginning to feel these effects, when he writes a short story about an event in his family and discovers that portraying his family members as they are in real life opens him to charges of stereotyping Jews and anti-Semitism from his father and his father's associates.
Of course this novel is by Roth, so despite its Jamesian pretentions there is masturbation. And yet it is a short masterpiece worthy of its pretentions.