One of the most revered, talented and awarded writers of his generation, Roth leaves a legacy of approximately thirty-five books, mostly novels, that reveals the arbitrary sidelines of American society by the eyes of peculiar, but inherently pessimistic characters; usually, very cynic men, that doesn’t hold any type of morality, religious beliefs or faith in life. On the contrary, his characters – upon which the more well-known certainly would be Nathan Zuckerman and David Kepesh, the first, usually considered an alter ego for Roth –, had lost completely their grip on life, and deal with a lot of sentimental affliction, emotional pain and solitary isolation, as well as the consequences of life-long sufferings.
I have read only three Phillip Roth’s books, but they were enough for me to consider him one of my favorite writers: Goodbye, Columbus, his first, published in 1959, Exit Ghost, published in 2007, which has Nathan Zuckerman as a central character, and more recently, The Dying Animal, originally published in 2001, which has literature professor David Kepesh as the protagonist. Undoubtedly, the one that I liked the most was Exit Ghost, although I have read this book several years ago. The Dying Animal, on the other hand, I have read recently, just about a few months ago.
Roth’s work is full of delicate nuances, although at the same time his work can be direct, incisive, explicit, arbitrarily afflictive and discreetly dilacerating on its sincere exposition of the painful hostilities of human existence.
Roth was a chronic cynic, derided religion, and was at least partially hateful of his Jewish upbringing – he expressively prohibited Jewish rites to be performed at his funeral – something that is reflected throughout his work, which is mostly autobiographical. His characters dive further into an inherent existential bitterness, that discreetly reflects at least a little some of his personal life experiences. Nevertheless, Roth was an exceptionally creative writer, and not everything found in his literary works must be directly related to him. On this regard, it is crucial to separate the writer and the individual from his fictional personae and situations described. The writer himself clearly has stressed the importance of this in many occasions, in several interviews he conceded to television, journalists and literature broadcasts across America.
Roth ceased writing and retired in 2010. I will probably never forget how I came to know about his retirement. I was ready to embark in a plane in Europe, and I had bought an exemplar of the International Herald Tribune, to read while on the flight. On the front page of the newspaper – which I have to this day –, there was this article, titled “Why Phillip Roth decided to retire his pen (in 2010)”, which continued on page 8. The article said that “To his friends, the notion of Mr. Roth not writing is like Mr. Roth not breathing”. But the article states that the motives to quit were quite clear. The beginning of the article read: ‘On the computer in Phillip Roth’s Manhattan apartment these days is a Post-it note that reads, “The struggle with writing is over.” (…) “I look at that note every morning”, he said the other day, “and it gives me such strength”’. On it, Roth confesses how difficult writing could be, since competent writing requires to completely undress the soul to the reader. Remarkably, as the article also mentions, Roth’s output increased significantly in the last decade of his writing career, and in this period he produced some of his finest works, which is uncommon among the vast majority of novelists, who usually slow down their pace. The writer was well-known as a reclusive person, was reserved towards the media and rarely was seen outside his cottage in Connecticut. He was a native of Newark, New Jersey, but also spent time in New York. Unfortunately, the individual is gone, but his legacy remains more alive than ever.