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Everyman by Philip Roth

Everyman (2006)

by Philip Roth

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Lovely language - totally depressing story ( )
  sushicat | Jan 14, 2016 |
Phil, Me and Everyman -

I was at an 'in-between-books' impasse for a couple days, then picked up a book I'd found at a library sale last summer. The book is EVERYMAN, Philip Roth's 27th book, published in 2006. It's a grim little tome, with a black dust jacket, the one-word title framed by a thin red-line square, the author's name writ large in white block letters, and a black and white photo of a stern-faced Roth, arms crossed, on the back cover.

I only vaguely remember reading the original EVERYMAN - a 15th century morality play - or some version of it back in graduate school. Its Christian theme of life and death and a final accounting of ones deeds in life to determine whether one deserves salvation - heaven - or not seems an odd thing for Philip Roth to be writing about. I mean, he is Jewish, after all, and, judging from his writing, he puts little stock in any kind of an afterlife. So I was not surprised to find this story a pretty dark one. The unnamed protagonist - Everyman, I presume - is retired to the Jersey shore from a successful career in advertising. He has been a philanderer and hedonist, married and divorced three times, and now, at 71, finds himself alone and in declining health, having survived numerous heart surgeries, with six stents inserted, as well as a defibrillator, and faces more of the same on the immediate horizon. His two sons from the first marriage have little to do with him. His daughter, from the second, is devoted to him, but, divorced with young twins, has problems of her own.

Everyman, alone and sometimes agitated and afraid, reflects back on his life, summing up his many mistakes. He wonders how he's ended up this way, and how it's all gone by so quickly, still mourning the loss of his beloved parents, as well as his own youth and virility.

I don't know if EVERYMAN was a bestseller, but I strongly suspect it would not have been a popular choice for book club discussions among the elderly. It's just too damn dark, too starkly honest about the winding down of life, too sad. But I love the writing of Philip Roth. I'm frustrated too that I've not managed to keep up with his prodigious output. (I felt the same way about Updike's stuff.) The first Roth book I read was PORTNOY'S COMPLAINT, which, at 25, I found howlingly funny. My first year of teaching, I even used it in a literature class, and this was in a pretty conservative, solidly blue-collar sort of community. What was I thinking? I still wonder, over forty years later, how it was that I was never summoned to the Department Chair's office over a complaint from an outraged parent. Nope. Never happened. But I do remember it was kinda hard to get a good class discussion going about Alex Portnoy.

After PORTNOY I went on to read several of Roth's other early books. One of them, LETTING GO, remains a special favorite. Of his later books, I loved AMERICAN PASTORAL and THE HUMAN STAIN.

But this book, EVERYMAN, despite its dark theme, touched me with its truths. I nodded in agreement when I read the following passage, about a trip Everyman makes to the beach community where he spent summers with his parents and brother. He has lost interest in his painting and doesn't know what to do with his time.

"... it was still his beach and at the center of the circles in which his mind revolved when he remembered the best of boyhood. But how much time could a man spend remembering the best of boyhood? What about enjoying the best of old age? Or was the best of old age just that - the longing for the best of boyhood ...[?]"

An interesting question, no? Indeed, I spent five of the most enjoyable years of my own retirement doing that very thing - remembering, and not just my boyhood, but my whole life. And writing it all down, or trying to. Four memoirs in six years, and now nothing for the past five. And I wonder. What's next? Do I have more to write of my own life? Or do I keep on doing only this: writing about other people's books? It's a question I ponder on an almost daily basis, as I continue to read and read and read some more.

Yes, I could relate to Everyman. At a particularly low point near the end, he has just visited his second wife, who has had a crippling stroke; then he made some difficult phone calls to friends who were terminally ill and to the wife of his former boss, newly widowed. And then, "what he wanted to do ... [was] to revive his own esprit by phoning and talking to his mother and father."

His parents by this time are both long dead, of course, but I understood that urge, that 'want.' I've had it myself.

I understood too the sadness of Everyman at no longer possessing "the productive man's male allure." And I nodded sadly yet again at his realization of what was probably left for him -

"But now it appeared that like any number of the elderly, he was in the process of becoming less and less and would have to see his aimless days through to the end as no more than what he was - the aimless days and uncertain nights and the impotently putting up with the physical deterioration and the terminal sadness and the waiting and the waiting for nothing. This is how it works out, he thought, this is what you could not know."

Yes, EVERYMAN is a pretty unrelentingly sad sort of book, full of grim, unwelcome truths about how things really often do turn out. If there really is a final reckoning, as the 15th century EVERYMAN play suggests, then Roth's Everyman would undoubtedly "have some 'splainin' to do" as Ricky Ricardo might say. But Philip Roth? Yeah, I know he's had a couple of wives, and all the scholars and experts say a lot of his work is highly autobiographical. But even so, I think I would LIKE this guy. I think it would be great to sit with him over a coffee and talk about things - about books and writers and writing, and, and well, about life in general.

Roth was featured in a PBS special last year, and, if I remember correctly, he may have said he's done writing. That he is retiring. It's not something you hear very often from writers. Mostly they just keep on writing until, well, until they die. Updike did. A couple friends of mine, Curtis Harnack and Ed Hannibal, did. But then I remember that another author, mystery writer Lawrence Block, recently announced his retirement too. So what the hell, if Philip Roth wants to retire, then he should. But I hope he enjoys it more than his own poor Everyman did. I just wonder what he'll DO, ya know?

So, anyway, if you should happen to read this, Phil, and you're bored, call me, okay? We could meet at McDonald's and get our senior coffees, and we could talk books. Seriously. ( )
  TimBazzett | Jan 12, 2015 |
E’ il nero il colore di questo libro. Un nero che riempie la bocca di terra e condanna all’eternità, il nero della propria immortalità mancata. Un nero di rapporti che solo R. sa come sezionare chirurgicamente, mettendone in risalto i lembi e le immonde ricuciture. E’ nero il sentimento del mondo, nonostante gli arcobaleni con i quali lo camuffiamo.
Feb 2013

Un piccolo tocco di nostalgia mi ha portato a rileggere questo, che pensavo fosse il primo di Roth ad aver conosciuto. Non è vero, ne ho letti altri, prima.

A questa veloce rilettura emergono dialoghi che non ricordavo di aver sentito, e sentimenti che non avevo inteso. Lo finisco con un brivido che dura piu' a lungo del consueto. ( )
  bobparr | Dec 14, 2014 |
A Flawless Work of Relentless Self-Reproach: The unnamed protagonist of EVERYMAN is a retired creative director of a prestigious New York advertising agency who has serious vascular problems. (He's moving to his eighth stent as the book ends.) This everyman was a poor husband and father but a good colleague who finds in his 71st year that "...eluding death seemed to have become the central business of his life and bodily decay his entire story."

In telling this story, Roth shows how illness combines with the elements of his protagonist's bittersweet life to expose and accelerate a downward familial and existential spiral. In this downward spiral, the protagonist cannot retain the underpinnings of his mature identity--his special relationship with his daughter, his love for his devoted brother, and the pleasure he finds in art and flirtatiousness. Meanwhile, the mistakes he made in life, largely due to his sexual adventurism, surge back on him in the forms of scorn, self-reproach, and isolation. For Roth's protagonist, life's final chapter is brutal.

Roth acknowledges that life's final stage does offer its own sad variation on success. The character Clarence Spraco, for example, dies but leaves behind an intact and affluent family that lovingly supports his bereaved wife. But this exception proves the rule, since for all other characters "...old age isn't a battle; old age is a massacre."

This is mesmerizing (albeit not cheerful) reading and highly recommended.

  mugwump2 | Feb 5, 2014 |
There is a firmness to the view of life in this book. A very earned wisdom, but I can't help but wonder if this everyman is too everymanish. Too much of a story that is already written within the gray areas of others. But it's a pretty tale, something altogether morbid, depressing and comforting. ( )
  TJWilson | Oct 14, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Philip Rothprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Guidall, GeorgeNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kooman, KoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dream when the day is thru,
Dream and they might come true,
Things never are as bad as they seem,
So dream, dream, dream.
-- Johnny Mercer,
from "Dream", popular song of the 1940s
the rare occurrence of the expected...
--William Carolos Williams,
from "At Kenneth Burke's Place," 1946
To J.G.
First words
The Swede.
Around the grave in the rundown cemetery were a few of his former advertising colleagues from New York, who recalled his energy and originality and told his daughter, Nancy, what a pleasure it had been to work with him.
You fight your superficiality, your shallowness, so as to try to come at people without unreal expectations, without an overload of bias or hope or arrogance…and yet you never fail to get them wrong…You get them wrong when you meet them, while you’re anticipating meeting them; you get them wrong while you’re with them; and then you go home to tell someone else about the meeting and you get them wrong all over again…[T]he whole thing is really a dazzling illusion empty of all perception, an astonishing farce of misperception
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307277712, Paperback)

Philip Roth's new novel is a candidly intimate yet universal story of loss, regret, and stoicism. The bestselling author of The Plot Against America now turns his attention from "one family's harrowing encounter with history" (New York Times) to one man's lifelong skirmish with mortality.

The fate of Roth's everyman is traced from his first shocking confrontation with death on the idyllic beaches of his childhood summers, through the family trials and professional achievements of his vigorous adulthood, and into his old age, when he is rended by observing the deterioration of his contemporaries and stalked by his own physical woes.

The terrain of this powerful novel is the human body. Its subject is the common experience that terrifies us all.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:05:21 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

The fate of Philip Roth's Everyman is traced from his first shocking confrontation with death on the idyllic beaches of his childhood summers and into old age, where he is stalked by his own physical woes.

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