The Counterlife
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The Counterlife

3.89 of 5 stars 3.89  ·  rating details  ·  2,196 ratings  ·  161 reviews
The Counterlife is about people enacting their dreams of renewal and escape, some of them going so far as to risk their lives to alter seemingly irreversible destinies. Wherever they may find themselves, the characters of The Counterlife are tempted unceasingly by the prospect of an alternative existence that can reverse their fate.

Illuminating these lives in transition an

...more
Paperback, 371 pages
Published January 5th 1988 by Penguin Books (first published 1986)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jessica
Aug 09, 2009 Jessica marked it as aborted-efforts  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dicklits
One thing writing all these book reports has done is help me figure out why I read. Our Lady of the Flowers really clarified some key reasons for it in an unavoidably brash, ballsy, obvious way even I could understand: I read because my adult mind is worn out, is tired, it's limp and lazy, my mind's become frustratingly ineffectual and can't always get going. It wants to love the world, but it's become increasingly difficult for it to muster the necessary excitement. I'll be out walking around s...more
Robert Farwell
Structurally brilliant, with a prose that shoots aggressively off every page. Roth begins his narrative with erectile disfunction and ends it with a nod to the circumcised erection of the Jewish father. Roth is going to travel and transform. He is going to elect for historical plastic surgery just so he can pick at every wound and irritate every scar of the past. He will use and abuse every bias and position that surrounds him.

This novel feels like Roth is trapped at one end by the extreme fact...more
Reese
GOOD NEWS: I finished this book.
BAD NEWS: Although I've long been a fan of Philip Roth's work, after reading this one, I moved some Roth books on my to-read shelf so far down the list that I may wind up reading them posthumously -- when my solar calendar and Jewish calendar have been replaced by an eternity calendar.

The odds in Vegas were heavily tilted in favor of my liking THE COUNTERLIFE. Hey, the book contains material on subjects of considerable interest to me: anti-Semitism, the non-Jewis...more
Mike
I don't know if this haunting novel stands up to the very best of Roth (American Pastoral, Sabbath's Theater, Patrimony, The Ghost Writer), but I know that it has colonized my brain, that I'm going to have to keep returning to its wisdom and authority for a long time to come.
Jeremy
This pushes much harder against the constraints of the novel form than any of the other Roth I've read. The book is anchored around Nathan Zuckerman and his relationship with his estranged brother Henry, but Roth takes that relationship and rearranges it in each section to delirious, recursive effect. Philip Roth juggles the concerns of death, rebirth and escape that many of his Jewish characters deal with in his fiction, but in this book those evasions actually bleed out of his familiar New Jer...more
Kimberly Erskine
I loved Philip Roth’s The Counterlife. It was one of those rare books that could make me feel a multitude of emotions and it took me by surprise. It is rare that books truly take me by surprise and have unexpected twists in the plots. This book did everything.

In the beginning this book offended me. I was outraged by the raw, raunchiness of it. I hated the character of Henry. He disgusted me. I hated the way he left his family to have an affair. I hated the way he risked his life to have a danger...more
Gary Greenberg
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Kevin Lawrence
Roth is certainly an entertaining, witty, and creative story-teller. The structure of this book reminded me that while Roth leaves a lasting impression of making our more unseemly side seem more human and even touchingly funny, his real strength as a novelist is the imaginative narrations of his novels. I still regard "American Pastoral" and "Sabbath's Theater" as his masterpieces, but "The Counterlife" shares the grafting of individual/family stories with larger social narratives as well. Can't...more
Tyler
Was not expecting this one to become a GRADE-A MINDFUCK a little ways in and continue being so up 'til the final words.

Both mad dense and pretty expansive (while making my knotty way through the final chapter, I would flip back to the first 120 pages and be like, "Shit, THAT was in this same book? That awesome digression about human mouths exists alongside the comic hijinks aboard an Israel-to-England flight?" etc. etc.) Hits a good numbers of items on the checklist of classic Philly Boy Roy-th...more
Fred
This is not a great story it is four great stories. Roth plays with narrative offering several different resolutions for the same conflict. In the hands of a less skilled writer it might be confusing but it is never that way with Roth. Certain scenes -- many scenes -- are unforgettable.
Josh
Where to start... I can't tell you with certainty which events were the novel, which the novel within the novel and whether in the last two sections the Maria character didn't violate the rules of both. DAMN. Shit, Philip Roth. These are some big thoughts. This novel is brilliant and it is about erectile dysfunction. Yeah, Philip Roth, unlike any artist I can think of, once again confronts the gaping wounds of life through sex and I mean--Christ--it's just a masterpiece. The brother stuff was fa...more
Scott
I was not sure how many stars I would give to this novel. If you've followed my writing about my reading for any time, you now that I'm rather ambivalent about Philip Roth. In the late nineties I read Goodbye Columbus and Portnoy's Complaint and enjoyed them. Portnoy's became one of my favourite novels. However, many other Roth novels I read I did not like. Some that were highly acclaimed and award-winning, I did not even finish (I delighted in the way Christopher Hitchens would attack each new...more
char
My first book by Philip Roth.
A tale of two brothers who are also perhaps the same person, of brotherly tenderness and assassination and the invention and destruction of Jewish identities. 'Jewish' is identity here for the most part, but there's many different types.
Philip Roth lifts veil after veil on a story within a story within a story...so, the narrator(s) die several times in several different ways, people blend names and relationships and finally the characters themselves rebel against th...more
Kurt
It's all there: Fate reversal; Jewish angst; upper middleclass phobias and snobbery disguised as manners; literary sleight of hand; adultery; religious zealots with guns; a failed hijacking with subsequent anal probes; the life of a successful Jewish author as seen through the eyes of a successful Jewish author; a life and death decision based solely on whether it is better to live a long, chaste life with the "shiksa" you left your wife for, or, risk open heart surgery that will free Nathan Zuc...more
Mariano Hortal
Publicado en http://lecturaylocura.com/la-contravida/

Es buen momento, tras el príncipe de Asturias, para poner esta reseña de uno de los libros de este coloso de las letras norteamericanas y que estaba retrasando en demasía.

En la densa y excepcional “Zuckerman encadenado”, asistíamos a la creación del alter ego más conocido de Philip Roth (otro sería el muy sexual David Kepesh) a través de un libro que constaba de tres libros y un epílogo maravilloso y complejo. En “La contravida” tenemos la “se...more
Joshua Morris
The Counterlife is the next installment of Phillip Roth's stand in, Nathan Zuckerman in his journey. It takes place after his huge success, and its repercussions on his relationships both with his loved ones and with himself. It's a novel within a novel within a novel about the process of writing fiction -- not from a technical point of view but a mind bending meditation on how facts and relationships are altered in the act of making fiction.

It is equally a novel about Jewish identity, (a theme...more
Gabriel
Primero. Esta novela es una caja de juegos metaliterarios de los que no quiero adelantar nada para no arruinarle la sorpresa al lector.

Segundo. En esta ocasión Nathan Zuckerman rebasa sus fronteras y va más allá de Newark para satirizar con vehemencia la identidad judía y sobre todo el sionismo con base en Israel, estado al que se enfrenta y critica por todos los ángulos, sin dejar cabos sueltos, desde cualquier punto de vista imaginable. Así tenemos a su amigo Shuki Elchanan, un crítico conser...more
Gauss74
In quest'opera il grande scrittore ebraico americano si cimenta col metaromanzo, ovvero un romanzo sul piacere di scrivere romanzi, come direbbe Italo Calvino. Solo che di piacevole non c'è niente.

In quella che sembra una dichiarazione di poetica, Nathan Zuckerman parte dagli spiriti stritolati dei suoi personaggi e ne immagina il tentativo disperato di usicre dalla secca della loro esistenza creandone un'altra diametralmente e scandalosamente opposta per valori e sentire: la controvita appunto...more
Richard
Nathan Zuckerman is a perfect opportunity for Philip Roth to be philosophical about the art of writing. And not just in word, but in deed - with Nathan Zuckerman being a fictional Philip Roth (with all of the biographical criticism and paradoxes no doubt intentional), Roth gets a perfect opportunity to muse on being a writer and the art of writing in a fictional rather than critical setting.

In this book, Zuckerman reinvents a few different versions of the tale of his relationship with his brothe...more
Lee (Rocky)
I think I appreciate this book in an abstract sense more than I actually enjoyed it while reading it. Roth constructs an interesting novel that really does a great job of exploring the complex relationships between an author and his characters, between an author and the people in his life, between the people in an author's life and the characters that they perceive to be based on themselves, and between a person and their own sense of who they are. The story is unusual is that some of the facts...more
cheeseblab
An autobiographical headnote, by way of explaining why it took me a month to read this. I began it while flying to Illinois to work on my daughter's 18-day movie shoot. I took along the fifth volume of the Library of America's collected works of Roth, even interrupting my Year of Reading Roth with a couple of other books so that I could start the first of four titles contained in this volume--only two of them purported novels, about which see my review of The Facts--and be sure of not running ou...more
Núria
Lo abandono. No puedo más. Lo abandono en la página 206. Mañana lo devuelvo a la biblioteca. Si no es que antes alguien me convence de lo contrario. La primera parte que narra como Henry Zuckerman se queda impotente por culpa de un efecto secundario de la medicación para el corazón (y claro, esto evidentemente representa el fin del mundo) me gustó mucho. Mucho. Me encantó el sentido del humor. Odiaba a los personajes, pero disfrutaba odiándolos. No esperaba menos de Philip Roth. Pero la segunda...more
Frances Lockhart
My first Philip Roth experience and I'm not overly impressed.

The idea of The Counterlife was a good one - alternate endings and outcomes to a person's life, kind of like an adult version of "choose your own adventure" stories I used to read as a kid. But the execution of this book was far too self involved, with pages and pages of monologues that seemed completely unrealistic (who has conversations where people woffle on for 20 minutes uninterupted??) and too heavy in the philosophical, zionisti...more
Charles Adkinson
I really enjoyed sections 1, 4, and 5. In a very unique way, the later sections tied together the seemingly disparate threads of the early portions. For a short(er) novel, there is so much going on, I'm not exactly sure what to even talk about. Near the end, in "Christendom," Zuckerman says something about a "Jew among Gentiles, a Gentile among Jews." Up until this portion of the novel, I didn't see the point in including such massive questions about Jewish identity in a novel that I wanted to b...more
Jennifer
Jun 05, 2007 Jennifer rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those who haven't heard of Roth
During grad school, one of my American courses was just devoted to the contemporary American writer Philip Roth. Partially, I enrolled in the course because I needed the credit, but also because I was chagrined to realize that there was a major contemporary I had not even HEARD of. Basically, Roth is important in the tradition of American Jewish authors along with Saul Bellow and Bernard Malamud. So, if you want to appear maybe a little prententious and well-read, you should check him out. Or, i...more
Diane
A post-modern version of Roth's "masturbatory fantasy," posing the question of whether Nathan Zuckerman or his brother Henry would choose sexual impotence or life-threatening surgery. In one version of the story, Henry joins a West Bank settlement (a version of Kiryat Arba, led by a character based on Moshe Levinger), where his personal problem is subsumed by nationalistic militancy (and a pistol in his pants). So even when the story has broader political/historical possibilities, it is still a...more
Michael Battaglia
Or "If everyone must have a future, it's better off being multiple choice."

Of the many themes that often crop up whenever Roth comes out with a Nathan Zuckerman novel, one of them is the extent a writer can draw from real life without regard to the consequences of what real life might think about that, especially if you distort or exaggerate things for the sake of entertainment. This was depicted literally in earlier stories where Zuckerman's family was none too happy that his most famous novel...more
Nancy
Like a mobius sock. You follow it as it turns it inside out and inside out and inside out; at the end, it's still inside out.

An argument, a long whine, a writer thinking very hard out loud.

I wanted to ask every Jewish person I know: what do you think?? Which (Rothian) Jew are you?

But if I was Jewish, I wouldn't answer that question.
Barry Bass
"The Counterlife" belongs right up there with the best of the Philip Roth canon. The book, besides being a thoughtful take on the relationship between perception and reality, kindness versus truth telling, how we perceive ourselves as opposed to how we wish others to perceive us, and the nature of human nature, it is also filled with riffs on what being a Jew is all about. He asks questions such as can we be both a Jew and an atheist, how important is Israel to Judaism, and should Israel continu...more
Beth Bee
Roth/his protagonist is a prick in writing this book. That being said, I recognized the characters from my friends and family. Phrases like "she put the oy back in goy, and I put the id back in yid" have led to my phrase: "We put the fun back in dysfunction." This book will have you rolling your eyes and guffawing intermittently.
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Philip Milton Roth is an American novelist. He gained early literary fame with the 1959 collection Goodbye, Columbus (winner of 1960's National Book Award), cemented it with his 1969 bestseller Portnoy's Complaint, and has continued to write critically-acclaimed works, many of which feature his fictional alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman. The Zuckerman novels began with The Ghost Writer in 1979, and inc...more
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American Pastoral (The American Trilogy #1) Portnoy's Complaint The Plot Against America The Human Stain (The American Trilogy, #3) Everyman

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“And as he spoke, I was thinking, 'the kind of stories that people turn life into, the kind of lives people turn stories into.” 13 likes
“People are unjust to anger — it can be enlivening and a lot of fun.” 5 likes
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