Everyman Audio CD – May 9 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. [Signature]Reviewed by Sara NelsonWhat is it about Philip Roth? He has published 27 books, almost all of which deal with the same topics—Jewishness, Americanness, sex, aging, family—and yet each is simultaneously familiar and new. His latest novel is a slim but dense volume about a sickly boy who grows up obsessed with his and everybody else's health, and eventually dies in his 70s, just as he always said he would. (I'm not giving anything away here; the story begins with the hero's funeral.) It might remind you of the old joke about the hypochondriac who ordered his tombstone to read: "I told you I was sick."And yet, despite its coy title, the book is both universal and very, very specific, and Roth watchers will not be able to stop themselves from comparing the hero to Roth himself. (In most of his books, whether written in the third person or the first, a main character is a tortured Jewish guy from Newark—like Roth.) The unnamed hero here is a thrice-married adman, a father and a philanderer, a 70-something who spends his last days lamenting his lost prowess (physical and sexual), envying his healthy and beloved older brother, and refusing to apologize for his many years of bad behavior, although he palpably regrets them. Surely some wiseacre critic will note that he is Portnoy all grown up, an amalgamation of all the womanizing, sex- and death-obsessed characters Roth has written about (and been?) throughout his career.But to obsess about the parallels between author and character is to miss the point: like all of Roth's works, even the lesser ones, this is an artful yet surprisingly readable treatise on... well, on being human and struggling and aging at the beginning of the new century. It also borrows devices from his previous works—there's a sequence about a gravedigger that's reminiscent of the glove-making passages in American Pastoral, and many observations will remind careful readers of both Patrimony and The Dying Animal—and through it all, there's that Rothian voice: pained, angry, arrogant and deeply, wryly funny. Nothing escapes him, not even his own self-seriousness. "Amateurs look for inspiration; the rest of us just get up and go to work," he has his adman-turned-art-teacher opine about an annoying student. Obviously, Roth himself is a professional. (May 5)Sara Nelson is editor-in-chief of PW.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Does Roth's new novel top or even match the stunning accomplishment of his previous one, the best-selling and award-winning The Plot against America (2004)? It is shorter in length and narrower in scope. It is the portrait of an ordinary man--he novel's title is apt--who accomplishes nothing extraordinary. Strict chronology is set aside as various episodes from the past and the present jostle for center stage. The motif of death followed this man throughout his life, beginning in boyhood, and with the advent of middle age, the frailty of the flesh, in both sexual and physical terms, is increasingly apparent to him. Despite its shortness in length and relative narrowness in scope, this novel speaks eloquently about life's un fulfillments, about making adjustments if the unfolding of one's life doesn't follow the original plan. Roth continues exercising his career-defining, clear-eyed, intelligent vision of how the psychology of families works. In The Plot against America, we saw how a family reacts to external forces; here, the reaction is to a family's internal circumstances. Perhaps, then, more readers will find this lean, poig-nant novel more relevant to themselves. Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Everyman reminded me of that insightful thought experiment.
Everyman opens at our narrator's funeral. There are some former colleagues from his advertising career, neighbors from the retirement village where he had been living, his daughter, two sons from a first marriage, his older brother and sister-in-law, his second wife (and his daughter's mother) and a former private duty nurse from a prior illness. You'll read his daughter's words which tell you the family's history.
Then, the narrator takes over to relate his life. The primary themes are family connection, taking on adult responsibilities, physical attraction to the opposite sex, life mistakes, physical decline and passing beyond this life. The perspective is that of an elderly man in not very good health, who objects to his health challenges.
The book is remarkably spare for a Philip Roth novel. I liked the contrast to his more elaborate works. This book is about the monologue in one's own head, and you don't need a lot of other material to capture that mind-set. A few incidents, scattered here and there, simply serve to elaborate on the narrator's character and perspective.
But the book transcends its narrator's life to touch on the important life passages and challenges we all have or will face. If you are like me, you'll find yourself re-examining your own life and plans.
As the book jacket points out, the title is intended to refer to an anonymously written fifteenth-century allegorical play themed to the process of summoning the living to death.Read more ›
We meet "him" as the subject during the brief funeral ceremony attended by a handful of "friends" and family. His sons stand aside, clearly not overly affected by his death. The reader gets a sketch of the man from his brother's eulogy and the words of his ex-wife and daughter. All three speak of a long-ago past, his youthful self as a brother in their beloved parents' house, of a happy time with his wife or as a young father. That was when life was innocent and wholesome - before death. The mourners have hardly turned away when the story shifts to the recounting the protagonist's life.
While Roth maintains a certain distance by writing in the third person, the following retrospective is very intimate and personal to his character. His meandering mind follows the different stages of his life, lingering with specifics and dialogs on some episodes, while brushing aside others that are deemed less important. In life, Roth's Everyman was certainly not your ordinary guy from down the street: he was a successful advertising director, wealthy and accepted by his peers. Abandoning his Jewish faith early on, he concentrated on the materialistic and hedonistic side of life. His three ex-wives were left primarily over his desire for sexual pursuits. Starting in middle age, heart problems became a concern and death lingered in the background.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I need to start this review by saying I really like Philip Roth. Books like American Pastoral and The Human Stain and many of his older books were terrific reads for me.
This is a very short book. Normally Philip Roth can go on and on, (you know how often you can turn the page in a Roth book and see that the next two pages are all one paragraph....) but he rarely does that here. This book is very spare. Some reviews say too much so, but I disagree.
Summary, no spoilers:
The story first starts off with the protagonists funeral and then goes back in time with him narrating the story of his life.
We hear about his fear of death and his intense frustration with his increasing health problems. In essence, the human condition. And the narrator is a man with no religious convictions to soften the blow.
I have read some criticism that the character is not fully developed, but I disagree. Our narrator, (unnamed), tells us bits and pieces of his life from different times in his life. It is a thumbnail sketch of an existence. There is just enough detail so that it feels real and we can identify with his childhood exuberance and his middle-age wanderlust.
Roth manages to touch on so many universal truths and for me there were many times when I found myself nodding my head in understanding.
Yes, the book is short, very short, but perhaps because of this and because of Roth's skill as a writer, when I turned the last page I felt like I had read something much longer. It did not need one more word.
Highly recommended. It's the work of a great artist again sharing his observations about life in a way that makes us empathize.
There are three major themes. The first is the exploration of the Scottish proverb that (put more decorously) an aroused male member has no conscience. When it follows its impulses the results are often ultimately unpleasant. The second, more important theme, is the illustration of Yeats's notion that as we age we increasingly feel as if our hearts--sick with desire--are "fastened to a dying animal." The book is a meditation on death, but more particularly a meditation upon the ways in which our bodies (some of our bodies; the protagonist's brother is healthy as well as rich) fail and betray us. The third is the importance of family and friends, but particularly family--a nexus of relationships that we see as important when we stop being selfish and begin to be wise.
The story is beautifully written, beautifully plotted, beautifully realized. It is grim but neither hollow nor depressing, erotic but not lurid. Most of all it is rich in details and descriptions. Highly recommended.
It's not apparent to me what Roth wants the reader to think of the main character. The title and numerous passages in the book indicate the guy exemplifies average, normal mankind, but he doesn't. As you would expect from a Roth protagonist, the Everyman character is abnormally incompetent at family life, and abnormally obsessed with silly sex. I'm not giving anything away here, but the guy craters a good marriage in favor of anal sex with an airhead. What are we supposed to make of that particular in a book that takes on existential themes? The good wife's furious denunciation of her husband are the best pages in the book: fluent, copious, intelligent rage, like something out of Greek tragedy.
As I said, you know Roth is a national treasure, you're going to read this book, and you should. But you won't re-read it, as you do your favorite Roth novels.
It's not that Roth's protagonist lives to very old age or outlived his generation. The book begins with his funeral, he having died during heart surgery in his early 70's. It then retreats back to his boyhood and moves forward, to look at an ordinary, flawed life through the lens of mortality. Many of the choices he makes, that propel him from one stage in life to the next, are either in defiance of or informed by the knowledge that not only can we die, we will.
Some complain that because the book is short, Roth was skimming. Uh-uh. There's a message in that medium. One well-known critic called his protagonist a "hollow man." Again, I beg to disagree: he is ordinary and recognizable for a reason and the information he serves up is interesting, provocative.