Roth, Philip

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.
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Roth, Philip

Philip Roth, 1933–, American author, b. Newark, N.J., grad. Univ. of Chicago (M.A., 1955). His writings, noted for their irony and themes of identity, rebellion, and sexuality, deal largely with middle-class Jewish-American life. Roth gained his initial literary reputation with the short-story collection Good-bye Columbus (1959). Portnoy's Complaint (1969), a psychiatrist-couch monologue by a young, insecure, and hilariously articulate Jewish man who describes his life, notably his possessive mother, his erotic fascination with blonde Gentile girls, and his masturbatory exploits, was Roth's break-out, best-selling novel and is still probably his most famous book. It has been widely acclaimed a comic masterpiece. His many other works include the novels The Breast (1972), The Great American Novel (1973), My Life as a Man (1974), The Ghost Writer (1979) Zuckerman Unbound (1981), Zuckerman Bound (1985), The Counterlife (1987), The Facts (1988), Operation Shylock (1993), the trilogy American Pastoral (1997; Pulitzer Prize), I Married a Communist (1998), and The Human Stain (2000), The Plot against America (2004), Indignation (2008), The Humbling (2009), and Nemesis (2010).

His flood of late novels, which frequently portray American life in the last decades of the 20th cent. with a mixture of comedy and savagery, have often been imaginative amalgams of autobiography and fiction, sometimes with doppelgänger Nathan Zuckerman standing in for the author or with "Philip Roth" appearing as a character or as the narrator. Roth also has written a nonfiction account of his father's death, Patrimony: A True Story (1991). Several of his most recent fictional works, notably The Human Stain,The Dying Animal (2001), Everyman (2006), Exit Ghost (2007), in which the central character is an elderly, mentally and sexually diminished Nathan Zuckerman, and The Humbling (2009), treat a variety of end-of-life themes—remembrance and regret, the last sparks of sexual desire, the ills and sorrows of the failing body and mind, and mortality itself. In 2011 Roth was awarded the Man Booker International Prize.

See his The Facts: A Novelist's Autobiography (1988, repr. 1997) and his essays, Reading Myself and Others (1985); G. J. Searles, ed., Conversations with Philip Roth (1992); studies by S. Pinsker (1975), A. Z. Milbauer and D. G. Watson, ed. (1988), J. L. Halio (1992), A. Cooper (1996), S. Milowitz (2000), M. Shechner (2003), D. Shostak (2004), G. Welsch (2005), J. L. Halio and B. Siegel, ed. (2005), and D. P. Royal, ed. (2005).

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