R.'s Reviews > The Anatomy Lesson

The Anatomy Lesson by Philip Roth
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's review
Aug 23, 2007

really liked it
bookshelves: 2007
Recommended for: grief-stricken sons, doubtful writers

Perhaps...perhaps the comparisons to Kafka aren't entirely unjustified.

My "problem" with approaching Roth has always been the instinct that his books were about him.

Well, no surprise: they are. Or at least this one is.

Even the dialogue comes off sounding like he's sitting there at his typewriter, furiously talking to himself putting the anger into Zuckerman's voice, and the dissenting opinion into the voice of the Female Who Adores Him.


Or, more correctly:

"Jews push!"
"Jews pull!"

Or, even more exactly:

"Newark Jews (second-generation sons) push!"
"Newark Jews (second-generation sons) pull!"

Still, Roth's prose is amazingly easy to read. Your eyes just glide over the words; he seldom plays with the words, gets limber with the language (though there is a definite muscular musicality). So, yes, the ease of it all is a plus...but, also, it's a very simple vocabulary. And the man is considered America's finest writer, showered with praise. Why?

Even Joyce Carol Oates isn't this one-trick-pony-ish.

She actually has, you know, pushed towards dark, albeit imaginary, corners (much more the impulse of "a fine American writer").

I mean, look at what Newsweek said: "It was bold of Roth to write a novel about being famous...a comic stroll in a hall of mirrors."

Bold? I think the past ten years of Internet have proven that writing about oneself is not bold, but a national compulsion that finds its greatest, boldest exponent in the writing of 14-year-old girls on MySpace.

"There was talk of a counterculture daughter, a dropout from Swarthmore who took drugs."

Damn, but that's a musical sentence.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Joeji (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:05PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Joeji Look at it as though Roth is writing a 'life.' Zuckerman alone has 9 books, I think. I feel that few authors can pull this off because they don't have the depth and the angles that Roth can dig up. Supposedly he is his own best reader (English major style). Yep, it is the same thing over and over again and this is because he is delving farther and farther into one human soul - his own. At first I was really annoyed by it, but now that I am on my 12th Roth, I am really glad that he is doing so. Just a way to further think about it.

message 2: by R. (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:05PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

R. I must admit that "The Anatomy Lesson" has become, after some distance, one of my favorite reads this year...

Unfortunately for Roth, no matter how deeply he digs there will come a point...the point when he can no longer defend himself...when his life will be looked at by outsiders; and this seems to be the fear that looms over all the Zuckerman Tales. The...the elephant standing next to the typewriter.

message 3: by Joeji (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:06PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Joeji Check out The Human Stain - it's one of the later Zuckerman trilogies. Everyone says American Pastoral but I think the Human Stain is a better book and a better read. Along with I Married a Communist these are the books where Zuckerman returns to The Ghostwriter (which I REALLY recommend if you haven't read) becoming a narrator for someone else. I haven't read Exit Ghost yet, the "last" Zuckerman, but I am interested to see where he falls as a character vs. a strange omnipresent narrator who, suddenly attracted to something, MUST unfold the story. His fear becomes other peoples' lives... a new elephant that looks outside himself.

message 4: by R. (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:21PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

R. Apologies for the lateness of this reply, Joe--I wanted to wait until I finished Exit Ghost before I spoke further.

Thank you for the recommendations--for some reason, Ghost Writer throws up obstacles to me. The follow-ups are great, but there is something in the first Zuckerman book that is causing me to read 50 pages, take it back to the library, check it out, read 50 more pages, sigh, take it back to the library. I can't put my finger on it. The prose really...really has a gloam to it.

And another question Rothphiles must contend with: Who's the better Nathan Zuckerman? Mark "Cousin Larry" Linn-Baker or Gary "Lt. Dan!" Sinise?

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