‘The Horse’ is what I’d called Roth when he and I shared an office space in the late 60s while he was working on Portnoy’s Complaint and I was working on a similar but superior work, Feldman’s Penis. Roth had earned his nickname because he ate a lot of apples and oats, and also because he loved to saddle up with the shiksas. No one knows a writer as well as his contemporaries. Roth and I are as contemporary as they get.
With 31 books in 51 years – from Goodbye Columbus (1959) to Nemesis (2010), Roth cranked out copy like Danielle Steele, James Patterson, or Stephen King, not like a precious literary genius. He could have rested on his laurels in any of the last six decades, gone off the grid like Salinger, or found a nice sinecure at a writers’ workshop. But he just kept on writing. Roth was probably at the height of his powers in the late 90s and early 2000s, the years of the masterful trilogy (American Pastoral, I Married a Communist, and The Human Stain) and The Plot Against America. But his recent books are equally elegant, the kind of short novels that demand to be read in one sitting. If you think you work too hard, think about Roth and think again. If you’re satisfied with your accomplishments, think again. Roth’s won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award (twice each), the PEN/Faulkner Award (three times), and is the only writer to have his canon published by the Library of America while still alive. The protagonist of Everyman quotes the painter Chuck Close as saying ‘amateurs look for inspiration; the rest of us just get up and go to work.’ Indeed.
“At 79, Roth is the celebrated author of 31 books (all of them impressive, many of them masterpieces), the winner of just about every major literary award but the Nobel, and though he has remained remarkably prolific, his four most recent novels have been brief, spare, and uncharacteristically quiet; reading them, one has the sense of looking through a camera as the aperture slowly contracts.”
Our own Panio Gianopoulos with a beautiful essay on Philip Roth’s declaration of retirement over at Salon. (And hey, there’s still a little time to get a signed first-edition of A Familiar Beast!)
From 2009, an interview with Philip Roth, who announced his retirement today.
I am Philip Roth. I had reason recently to read for the first time the Wikipedia entry discussing my novel ‘The Human Stain.’ The entry contains a serious misstatement that I would like to ask to have removed. This item entered Wikipedia not from the world of truthfulness but from the babble of literary gossip—there is no truth in it at all.
I cannot and do not live in the world of discretion, not as a writer, anyway. I would prefer to, I assure you — it would make life easier. But discretion is, unfortunately, not for novelists.