Tags: philip roth | obituary | the great american novel

Philip Roth: Requiescat in Pace

Philip Roth: Requiescat in Pace
Novelist Philip Roth stands during a ceremony at the White House in Washington, D.C., March 2, 2011, where he recieved the National Humanities Medal. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

Tuesday, 29 May 2018 05:12 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Someone did write the great American novel.

It was Philip Roth.

And it wasn’t for "Portnoy’s Complaint."

Nor "Zuckerman," bound or unbound.

Nor "Goodbye, Columbus."

Nor "The Human Stain."

But truly it was Philip Roth precisely when he wrote and published "The Great American Novel" (initial caps and underlined here because it is the title of his novel, the funniest book I ever read and you will ever read).

“Call me Smitty” is its opening line — so much more human and satisfying than Melville’s Ishmael beginning. Smitty’s full name is Word Smith.

Despite that wobbly opening, this is a book that made me laugh twice out loud while standing up in a crowded, steamy, sweaty Long Island Railroad car on the way to Bay Shore to catch the ferry to Fair Harbor, Fire Island in 1973).

Critics are not as kind to the novel as I. "The Great American Novel" is often called Roth’s worst book.

It was once even called a “failure as a novel” thus ranked below even "Indignation," Roth’s story of the son of a Kosher butcher in Brooklyn with the outlandish and unlikely family name of Messner which translates in Yiddish or German to sexton, the Mess(e) part derived from the German word for the Catholic Mass. Names meant a lot to Roth’s writing as in "The Great American Novel" he dubbed the sons of baseball manager Frank Mazuma, Jack and Gelt.

His obits have failed to mention any failures in creating novels but never fail to mention his failure to win a Nobel Prize, Nobels being great currency these days. We all note the rise and fall each morning of President’s Trump’s possibilities to go to Stockholm, get the tax free money (even state and local), and the statue, and get introduced for bringing about Korean peace by another contender for bringing about Korean rapprochement, the Honorable Dennis Rodman a roving ambassador.

Professor Roth earned lots of plaudits outside his writing, both in the University of Iowa writing program and at Princeton University which brought him closer to his hometown of Newark. His approach to researching a wildly comic novel such as this one took him to Earnshaw Cook, the founder to a great degree of Sabrmetrics. Roth also notes another serious source for dialogue, the “locutions” of old-time ballplayers recorded by Lawrence Ritter and quoted extensively in "The Glory of Their Times." He pays them homage while skewering Hemingway, Twain, and Melville. And for the hated Walter O’Malley who he suggests would move the Dodgers to Mars if only it had enough parking.

If you never read Roth, start now. Begin with "The Great American Novel" and work your way down or up depending on your own heart-burned and felt criteria.

Tom Messner worked forever in advertising. In politics, he avoided the predictable negative bent and did positive ads for Reagan in ’84 and for Bush in ’88 along with Bush’s convention film. The agency he co-founded created NASDAQ’s first branding, Volvo’s comeback, and Fox News’s “We report. You Decide.” Then learning from the pols he partnered with (Roger Ailes in particular), they brought attack ads to such formerly benign areas such as telecom (MCI). At 73, he’s doing two things he never did before: Blogging here on wildly unconnected subjects coming on the heels of last year’s adventure: the writing of his first play, a musical “Dogs” destined now for either Broadway or The Pound. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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If you never read Roth, start now. Begin with "The Great American Novel" and work your way down or up depending on your own heart-burned and felt criteria.
philip roth, obituary, the great american novel
Tuesday, 29 May 2018 05:12 PM
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