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Everyman by Philip Roth

Everyman (2006)

by Philip Roth

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This was the first of Roth's books that I ever read. The only thing that I will say is that reading this book lead to an obsession with Roth that I'm still not getting over and which may be contagious... ( )
  SnowcatCradle | Jan 2, 2017 |
Candid story of getting old, sickness comforting losses — Very good

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.
  christinejoseph | Dec 30, 2016 |
Late in the 15th century, an anonymous playwright penned a Christian morality tale in which an average man is confronted by Death for a final reckoning. The story’s ostensible moral is rather straightforward: In the quest for eternal salvation, all men must ultimately stand alone with their good deeds to define them. More than five centuries later, Philip Roth gives us Everyman, his modernized version of the same tale. Roth’s account begins in a decrepit cemetery with the sparsely attended funeral of an unnamed Jewish man whose life story is then revealed throughout the rest of the novel.

And what a sad story it turns out to be. Aside from some pleasant memories from a boyhood spent working in his father’s jewelry store and taking family vacations to the Jersey shore, there is little in the protagonist’s existence that can be considered joyful. A serial philanderer throughout adulthood, he has been divorced three times from women to whom he cannot remain faithful and he has walked away from three young children from two of those marriages. Although successful as an advertising executive, the job brings him little fulfillment as he longs to pursue the art career he abandoned early on. He even becomes estranged from the older brother he idolized in youth, envying his sibling’s robust health while he endures a series of medical hardships. At the end of his life, this Everyman is truly alone, but very much as a result of the choices he himself made.

I did not find a lot that I enjoyed while reading Everyman. To be sure, there are parts of the book that are moving and beautifully written; this is a Philip Roth novel, after all. However, rather than being an updated morality tale, the story is really a lengthy lamentation on the miseries of growing old and seeing one’s health deteriorate along the way. I suppose that part of the story is universal—death (hopefully in old age) is indeed an appointment we all will keep—but very little else about the protagonist’s existence resonated with me or resembled anyone of any faith, gender, or color that I know. I suspect that this was a very personal story for the author, perhaps even autobiographical at times. Sadly, though, that did not turn the self-indulgent ruminations and late-in-the-game regrets of an unpleasant character into an engaging experience for this reader. ( )
  browner56 | Nov 20, 2016 |
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 |
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Philip Rothprimary authorall editionscalculated
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
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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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