Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Operation Shylock

Just in time for the first night of Hanukkah, I've finished Philip Roth's Operation Shylock.

I've written about Roth before on this blog, but I'll say it again: for an author who has attracted so much popular and critical attention, I still maintain that he's underrated.

Three novels, in particular, have been overlooked in recent years: The Ghost Writer, The Counterlife, and (now I can confirm) Operation Shylock. At least part of this is a result, I concede, of the success of Roth's recent string of recent novels.

Nevertheless, the man is a master - in these three novels, in particular - of the double, of the politics of identity, and of the complexities of justice. I know Frank and I have discussed Roth and Frank has rightly labeled him a sort of "tribal" writer. And while that's undeniably true, there is more to Roth than an intimate - sometimes unwanted - vision of the Jewish people.

I think the trick when it comes to Roth is acknowledging that he's writing on behalf of America's many minorities. And so in that sense, he serves as an unexpected double for writers like Updike, whose books bore me precisely because they reach for too much: in their attempt to capture America, they proceed with a veiled self-assuredness that puts me off...

But enough about Updike; this post is about Roth. For the three novels alone that I mentioned above, he is worthy of our praise, and I am happy to extend it.

Roth is about so much more than wounded masculinity, Judaism, and Newark. His books are about the intersections of terribly complicated things - including history and the ways that we interact with it, experience it, inherit it.

After all, Roth seems to imply, the past is our own; it is alive, sorrowful, and everywhere. And yet, it is foreign and worse, inert. To relate to that dynamic, I think, is what it means to identify with Roth.

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