“Don’t try to rehabilitate me,” Philip Roth told biographer Blake Bailey. “Just make me interesting.”
Based on the early returns, Bailey has done just that in his much-anticipated Philip Roth: The Biography (W.W. Norton & Company).
“A monumental gift in the realm of international letters. I wept and railed, marveled and shook my fist at the sky.”
“A charming, wise, and witty biography, which achieves a balance and comprehensiveness that shouldn’t have been possible so soon after Roth’s death.”
The book is the complete authorized biography of a literary titan, and the only one there will ever be. Roth, who died in 2018, granted Bailey exclusive access to his person, friends, family, lovers, and personal papers, which are now sealed to the public until 2050 or destroyed outright.
In Philip Roth: The Biography, Bailey balances admiration with independence, wit, and intellectual rigor in giving us the in-depth story of Roth’s technicolor life: his two disastrous marriages including the one to actress Claire Bloom (whose memoir Leaving a Doll’s House shredded Roth’s personal reputation,) his various lovers (several of whom visited him on his deathbed), his battles against allegations of misogyny and anti-Semitism, his enduring friendships and his rivalries (friendly and not) with Bellow, Updike, Malamud, Mailer, and more.
Bailey brilliantly traces their connections to Roth’s putatively autobiographical novels, lending the facts of Roth’s life not just human interest but literary meaning. Philip Roth: The Biography will delight Roth fans but it will also fascinate readers regardless of their opinions of his work. Enriched by insights from Roth himself and those who knew him best, it’s not only the portrait of one of our greatest and most controversial literary geniuses but also a fascinating panorama of post-war American culture.
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