The Philip Roth We Don’t Know: Sex, Race, and Autobiography

Univ. of Virginia. Sept. 2021. 240p. ISBN 9780813946610. $29.95. BIOG
There is a definite need for a book that grapples with Roth’s reputation in the #MeToo era. A literary figure of towering repute and prodigious output, Roth wrote books that constantly portrayed toxic masculinity, the male gaze, date rape, and emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. It would seem there is a ready market for a book pondering why he still matters. And yet, in his 128 pages of text, Berlinerblau (Jewish civilization, Georgetown; Campus Confidential: How College Works, or Doesn’t, for Professors, Parents, and Students) seems to make only a half-hearted attempt. The main value of this book may be simply in pointing toward an approach to Roth’s work through a #MeToo lens as well as that of Black Lives Matter. Problematic is Roth’s tendency toward meta-fiction; where does the fiction end and reality begin? In his analysis, Berlinerblau tries to explore this liminality, but to little affect. Instead, he makes assertions, then questions his own assertions, before finally dismissing them in a kind of miasma of meta-fiction and mystery. If only he had pressed into that difficulty with greater effort, he might have discovered something quite profound about the dwindling value of Roth’s work. Instead, readers are left with a brief book that somehow feels too long. On the plus side, the appendix has two tables of valuable information. Table 1 indexes African Americans in Roth’s novels and novellas, tabulating where and how they appear. Table 2 covers age-dissimilar romances in the novels. These tables open doors to further research and may prove quite useful.
VERDICT Academic libraries and large Roth collections may want to purchase.
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