After Hemingway, I thought I’d give Philip Roth, another accused misogynist a spin. I’d read American Pastoral in college, but all I remembered of the book were the detailed passages on glove making. This time I chose The Ghostwriter mostly because Katie Roiphe, who I listen to religiously on Slate’s audio bookclub constantly brings the novel up in her discussions of other authors.
The book is small and a quick read. The writing is terrific, but what I was truly intrigued by is the questions the narrator, Nathan Zuckermann, poses about the obligations of Jewish writers. The novel includes a 10-point questionnaire Zuckermann receives in response to one of his short stories. In reading this passage, I couldn’t help but see similarities between those questions and ones I’ve heard posed to mormon authors. (This is in no way to make light such singularly Jewish issues as the holocaust and thousands of years of persecution.)
One of the main criticisms (besides the ending) I had after reading Brady Udall’s The Lonely Polygamist was that I felt he’d taken the sensational and cheap way road into literature by writing about polygamy. Roth’s book asks the same question about a Jewish writer producing a story that deals with a fight over money.
I’ve ready so many entries over at AML, Sunstone, Segullah and Exponent about these issues and for the first time I began to realize that great Jewish writers like Roth and Catholic writers like Graham Greene have explored these issues of writing literature where faith plays a predominant role in the motivations of the characters. There is much to learn here.
Back to the misogyny …. I gotta say I didn’t feel it as deeply as I expected. Yes, the main characters in both novels are men and the women seem to be the antagonists, but for the most part, the women are well-rounded, fully realized characters. The flaw is that so much of their characterization comes from sex.
I’m on to Ann Patchett‘s State of Wonder next. She’s one of the authors I get the most enjoyment out of reading and I’ve devoured all of her other books. I’m looking forward to the new one because this is a woman who gets plot, but writes damn well. Although no one seemed to have liked her last one, Run, it was among my favorites.
I’ve also started reading Rebeca Makkai’s The Borrower, a novel by a debut writer who I went to college with. We had the same creative writing teacher and were both published in our college’s literary magazine. The similarity ends there as she’s published her short stories to much acclaim in several well-respected journals and the Best of series four years in a row. Her novel is getting blurbs everywhere (Oprah, NYT) and I’m thrilled for her. I’m twenty pages in and so far it is an excellent, a grown up/twenty-first century version of Matilda.