Thursday, February 04, 2010


Nathan Zuckerman is in a funk. He's developed mysterious, shooting pains in his neck, back, and shoulders. Despite his fame and fortune he is unable to find a specialist who can diagnose, let alone treat, his malady. He can't write, he can't socialize, so he lies on the floor in his apartment and kvetches. And carries out affairs with women who drop by to do errands for him.

In order to alleviate his pain, Nathan starts eating Percodan like candy and swilling vodka. This leads quickly to a mania which makes him believe he can go to med school at age 40 and start a new career. He flies to Chicago in order to apply to schools and has a breakdown. Along the way, he adopts the name of his worst critic and pretends to be a pornographer.

Again, Roth effortlessly inhabits Zuckerman, and of course one wonders how much is autobiographical in his work, but Roth is wholly aware of this concern and he plays with it to full effect. Despite great passages of breathless hilarity and clever invention, this is a very dark and sad book about the collapse of a great genius into total despair. And again, I just think Roth is Da Shit, which explains why I read two back-to-back.

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