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Roth Unbound: A Writer and His Books (2014)

by Claudia Roth Pierpont

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Relatively few writers use details from their personal lives in their fiction more than Philip Roth does in his. And that is exactly what makes Claudia Roth Pierpont’s Roth Unbound: A Writer and His Books so potentially fascinating.

Roth Unbound is not as much biography as it is literary criticism of one man’s entire writing career. Book by book, Pierpont examines everything written by Roth, from his best known and most successful novels, to his lesser known and least successful ones. What’s more, despite being a personal friend of Roth’s for a decade or so, Pierpont pulls no punches. She points out very clearly what she considers to be problems with many of his books and, in each of these instances, provides a detailed argument to build her case.

Readers hoping for details about Roth’s personal life, including how he constructs his novels and comes up with his plot lines will not be disappointed. Pierpont ‘s access to Roth, and his apparent willingness to share intimate details of his past with her for the book, exposes Roth’s past to much second-guessing on the part of readers and critics, alike. It is all part of what makes Philip Roth and his books so special to so many people, but it is also what makes certain segments of society (feminists, in particular) dislike him so intensely.

Although I own the entire Library of America collection of Roth’s work, I have not read all of his books yet, and frankly, if I were a reader new to Philip Roth, Roth Unbound might not encourage me to read them at all. Pierpont is just that honest and revealing about the shortcomings of some of Roth’s writing, books in which he was still struggling to find his voice or with which he somehow went completely off track. But she is quick to praise the brilliance of his best work and Roth, after all, is one of the finest and most important writers of the last sixty years.

So, do read Philip Roth. Use Roth Unbound to get some insight into the man who wrote the books, what was going on in his life when he wrote them, and into the books themselves. This is an excellent addition to the personal library of any reader of twentieth and twenty-first century fiction. ( )
  SamSattler | Dec 29, 2013 |
I was disappointed by Roth Unbound. Roth is among my favorite American novelists, if not my most favorite. I would like to have known more of Roth's life than Pierpont gives us. She spends most of her time analyzing his works of fiction. ( )
  SigmundFraud | Dec 8, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374280517, Hardcover)

A critical evaluation of Philip Roth—the first of its kind—that takes on the man, the myth, and the work

Philip Roth—one of the most renowned writers of his generation—hardly needs introduction. From his debut, Goodbye, Columbus, which won the National Book Award, to his Pulitzer Prize–winning American Pastoral, to his eternally inventive later works such as Exit Ghost and Nemesis, Roth has produced some of the greatest literature of the past hundred years. And yet there has been no major critical work about him, until now.
     Here, at last, is the story of Roth’s creative life. Claudia Roth Pierpont, a writer for The New Yorker for more than twenty years, tells an engaging story even as she delves into the many complexities of Roth’s work and the controversies it has raised. This is not a biography—though it contains many biographical details—but something more rewarding: an attempt to understand a great writer through his art.
     Pierpont, who has known Roth for several years, peppers her gracefully written and carefully researched account with conversational details, providing insights and anecdotes previously accessible only to a very few, touching on Roth’s family, his inspirations, his critics, the full range of his fiction, and his literary friendships with such figures as Saul Bellow and John Updike.
     Roth Unbound is a major achievement, a fascinating and highly readable work that will set the standard for Roth scholarship for years to come.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:20:28 -0400)

"The story of Roth's creative life, [which] is not a biography-- though it contains a wealth of previously undisclosed biographical details and unpublished material--but something ultimately more rewarding: the exploration of a great writer through his art"--Dust jacket flap.… (more)

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