Philip Roth, writing and lust

Cristina Cross
May 26, 2018

Perhaps his most famous work is "Portnoy's Complaint", an unflinching look at young male sexuality. Three of his books were honored with the American Jewish Book Award, and in 1998 he won the Jewish Book Council's Lifetime Literary Achievement Award. "I was by this time no longer in possession of the mental vitality or the physical fitness needed to mount and sustain a large creative attack of any duration", Roth mentioned in a recent interview about his decision.

"Never created an uncomplicated hero, and we wouldn't have had it any other way". His "Plot against America" found renewed significance under the Donald Trump presidency and he published "Nemesis", his final novel, in 2010, before announcing his retirement in 2012. In a particular conversation with him on occasion of publication of one of central novels of his extensive corpus, Pastoral Americana (1997), writer declared that for him to write entailed a painful delivery.

His titanic stature on the post-World War II literary scene came from the universality of his message - in his own words: "I don't write Jewish, I write American".


In his over 50 years in showbiz, he wrote more than 30 books and won countless awards for his novels.

Being snubbed for the Nobel every year had "become a joke" for the author, said his friend, French writer Josyane Savigneau.

Eight of Roth's novels have been adapted into films, including "Goodbye, Columbus" with Richard Benjamin and Ali McGraw; "Portnoy's Complaint"; "The Human Stain" with Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman; "The Dying Animal", adapted as "Elegy"; "The Humbling" with Al Pacino and Greta Gerwig; and "Indignation" and "American Pastoral" both in 2016. He adored his parents, especially his father, an insurance salesman to whom he paid tribute in the memoir Patrimony.

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Roth once wrote that his novel was not meant to be a direct portrayal or a warning of current and future political times, but it has not prevented comparisons between the novel's plot and the current political climate in the US. Like him, he went into abysses of human condition without calculating risks: "Every morning, I feel that I descend to a mine, from which at end of day I return with materials that after I have to go to page", he said in that conversation.

Friend and writer Judith Thurman said that after he stopped writing Roth spent his free time reading and swimming, and meeting friends.

"I don't want to read any more of it, and I don't even want to talk about it anymore. In my life I have had, in total, a couple of months of these completely wonderful days as a writer, and that is enough".

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"He was such a driven perfectionist, so when he felt his power ebbing, he wanted to quit at the top of his game, and he did", CNN quoted her as saying.

Roth was born in 1933 in Newark, N.J., a time and place he remembered lovingly in The Facts, American Pastoral and other works.

Philip Roth photographed for LIFE magazine in 1968.

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