Richard's Reviews > The Counterlife

The Counterlife by Philip Roth
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May 16, 2009

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Read in May, 2009

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 brother, Henry. The variations on a theme in this book make the progress a little more idealistic than plot-driven, and I like the stuff that goes on in here a lot, with variations that even reverse situations and a lot of great questions about identity, but I didn't find this book as compelling as others, especially the Zuckerman books to come after this one.

But one thing that has been hooking my craw (beeing my bonnet?) of late is how almost every blurb on every Roth book I've read of late has noted Roth's comedy. It's not that I disagree, but I'm not always sure that the comedy of which these blurbs speak is the same comedy that I see in Roth, and that's the wonderfully sad kind of comedy, the tragicomedy if you will, the comedy that makes us cringe a little not exactly out of empathy, but out of recognition.
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