Philip Roth

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Roth, Philip

(Philip Milton Roth), 1933–2018, American author, one of the most important novelists of the 20th cent., b. Newark, N.J., B.A. Bucknell Univ., 1954, M.A. Univ. of Chicago, 1955. His writings, noted for their dark humor, irony, and themes of Jewish identity, rebellion, and male sexuality, deal largely with middle-class Jewish-American life. He explored these mainly through the use of protagonists who were stand-ins for himself. In nine of his novels, doppelgänger Nathan Zuckerman stands in for the author; in three, the more academic David Kapesh fills the role; in others, "Philip Roth" appears as a character or the narrator. His hometown of Newark also frequently figures in his work.

Roth, who published 27 novels, two memoirs, and several story collections, gained his initial literary reputation with the short-story collection Good-bye Columbus (1959, National Book Award). Portnoy's Complaint (1969), a psychiatrist-couch monologue by a young, insecure, and hilariously articulate Jewish man who describes his life, notably his possessive mother, his erotic fascination with blonde Gentile girls, and his masturbatory exploits, was Roth's break-out, best-selling novel and is still probably his most famous book. It has been widely acclaimed a comic masterpiece. Other novels include The Breast (1972), The Great American Novel (1973), My Life as a Man (1974), The Ghost Writer (1979) Zuckerman Unbound (1981), Zuckerman Bound (1985), The Counterlife (1987), The Facts (1988), Operation Shylock (1993), Sabbath's Theater (1995, National Book Award), his American historical trilogy consisting of American Pastoral (1997; Pulitzer Prize), I Married a Communist (1998), and The Human Stain (2000), The Plot against America (2004), Exit Ghost (2007), Indignation (2008), The Humbling (2009), and Nemesis (2010). Patrimony: A True Story (1991) is nonfiction account of his father's death.

His flood of late novels, which frequently portray American life in the last decades of the 20th cent. with a mixture of comedy and savagery, were often imaginative amalgams of autobiography and fiction. Several of Roth's later fictional works, notably The Human Stain, The Dying Animal (2001), Everyman (2006), Exit Ghost (2007, with an elderly, mentally and sexually diminished Zuckerman), and The Humbling (2009), treat end-of-life themes—remembrance and regret, the last sparks of sexual desire, the ills and sorrows of the failing body and mind, and mortality. Roth was awarded the Man Booker International Prize in 2011.

Bibliography

See his essays in Reading Myself and Others (1985) and his The Facts: A Novelist's Autobiography (1988); G. J. Searles, ed., Conversations with Philip Roth (1992); studies by S. Pinsker (1975), A. Z. Milbauer and D. G. Watson, ed. (1988), J. L. Halio (1992), A. Cooper (1996), S. Milowitz (2000), M. Shechner (2003), D. Shostak (2004), G. Welsch (2005), J. L. Halio and B. Siegel, ed. (2005), D. P. Royal, ed. (2005), and C. R. Pierpont (2013).

Roth, Philip (Milton)

(1933–  ) writer; born in Newark, N.J. He studied at Rutgers (1950–51), Bucknell (B.A. 1954), and the University of Chicago (M.A. 1955; further study, 1956–58). He gained overnight acclaim for Goodbye, Columbus (1959, National Book Award), a novella, and five short stories, but for many years he combined his writing career with teaching at such institutions as the University of Iowa (1960–62), the University of New York: Stony Brook (1967–68), Princeton (1962–64), and the University of Pennsylvania (1965–80). Many of his writings brought him criticism from his fellow Jewish-Americans for his satiric views of their lives, while his Portnoy's Complaint (1969) gained him notoriety in broader circles for its frank sexuality. In The Great American Novel (1973) he tried his hand at mythologizing baseball. His trilogy, beginning with The Ghost Writer (1979), features his alter-ego, Nathan Zuckerman, and in these and subsequent books he plays with the notions of what is fiction and what is real about his own public self. He was also drawn to issues of censorship and intellectual freedom and for many years edited a series of translations of authors from Eastern European countries. Whatever his final standing in American literature, he clearly entertained and enraged readers in equal measure.