John's Reviews > Nemesis

Nemesis by Philip Roth
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Oct 17, 10

Read in October, 2010

This is the best of the four recent "short novels" by Roth. Its bifurcated timeline still makes it pale by comparison to his better work, but at least the more unpleasant old-man obsessions (prostates, barely-believable affairs with much-younger women compensating for a declining libido, etc.) are nowhere to be found here. Most of the book is taken up by the series of events in 1944 Newark which are determine the eventual fate of its 4-F protagonist. Yet as soon as the determinative event is reached, we switch to a short scene a quarter of a century later, where he relates his subsequent decline into loathing and self-pity to a telltale Roth stand-in.

The Roth of just over a decade ago -- American Pastoral, of course -- would have been able to sustain the entirety of this life story, rather than giving us the story of one summer followed by a brief retrospective. Perhaps it is not fair to constantly compare everything new that Roth does to his greatest work, but the temptation is there. That said, the writing in the denouement is superb.
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