October 27, 2010

The Counterlife by Philip Roth

Date Started: October 19
Date Finished: October 26

Summary: Nathan Zuckerman, an author, is revising and rewriting his own life story using the people in his life as characters. He explores different scenarios in which his brother dies, his brother goes on a religious pilgrimage, the author himself dies, and many other situations.

Likes: I have a love hate relationship with this book. On the likes side, I like the idea of an author writing about different situations and exploring the outcomes. I like the idea of the writer not being able to turn off that "pull fiction from fact" kind of mentality. Zuckerman likes to exploit situations and make people more interesting than they actually are. Some people, like Jimmy, are more interesting than the author could hope to make them. My favorite scene is Jimmy, the fanatic fanboy, attempting to hijack a plane. The dialogues between Maria and Zuckerman are also interesting to read.

Dislikes: There were too many rants for me to be fully engaged in the story. The moment I would suck in, especially when the story dealt with the relationship between other characters, someone would go off on a religious rant/diatribe and push me out of the story. They almost always talk about Judaism and what it means to be a Jew, which would be all fine and good if I could find a way to connect to it. I can in other books, like Sam's struggle with her identity in Shine, Coconut Moon. For some reason I found it really hard to connect with the struggle of Jews in America. And it's not that I can't relate to that struggle, but the book was written in a way that assumes the reader knows about Jewish history, which I unfortunately don't. And it's not that I would do the research to find out the deeper meaning, but I found that I didn't care about the main character's struggle enough to look into more than just the surface stuff that I know. He's a 44 year old writer that had been married 4.5 times and I felt that he was a little too old to be having this identity/mid-life crisis. 

Overall: The dislikes being said, I'm sure everything would tie together had I read the other Zuckerman novels. I do like the author not being able to turn off the writer in him, trying to exploit life to get the best story possible. I like the theme of people creating their own counter lives, because it rings true. It is almost like reading someone brainstorm and then making a semi-coherent narrative of the process. I would recommend it for that reason, but I would warn people who aren't really religious or political rants should probably just skim those parts over.

Recommended by: Professor Andrew Winer's Survey of Fiction Class

Acquired: Amazon.com
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