Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Counterlife

Journal entry from Mexico City:

Score one for Irony.

I mean, really, what are the odds that I should become consumed by Philip Roth's Counterlife in a place whose foundations are firmly, unshakably, Catholic? Truly, reading Roth's novel this week has been surreal: after all, here I am, surrounded at almost every turn by visual representations of Christ, and yet, in my lap, I'm holding a sort of Jewish jeremiad.

I could go on and on about this irony, and about the triumph that is The Counterlife, but I won't - if only because the irony, much like the novel, speaks - absolutely, insistently - for itself.

I will say, though, that the final seventy-five pages of this masterpiece are as good as it gets.

And so, come on, let's leave behind (or at least revisit) those tired characterizations of Roth. After all, this novel is about so much more than tribalism, or tribal affiliation, or paranoia, or the modern construction of "we."

It's a book, in the end, about one hopelessly, endlessly complicated thing: history. And it's the sad (at moments in this novel, devastating) revelation that "conflict is never rooted in the here and now but...originates so far back that all that remains of the grandparents' values are the newlyweds' ugly words" which endows The Counterlife with such a ferocious, such a spirited punch.

I couldn't put this book down.


  1. Reading books in odd places and circumstances often accentuates their effect. I first read Nietzsche's The Antichrist on Easter Sunday many, many years ago. I still think there is much to the difference I noted then between what is said in the first-person singular in that book and what is said in the first-personal plural.

  2. Christopher Guerin12:01 PM

    I couldn't agree more about The Counterlife. Along with Sabbath's Theater and American Pastoral, his finest work.