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An extraordinary tour de force from Roth Varying styles of narration, sub text commenting on subtext like Pale Fire, it was an exhilarating read There was a lot of quotable material Nathan Zuckerman at the Wailing Wall Rock is just right, I thought what on earth could be less responsive Even the cloud drifting overhead, Shuki s late father s Jewish cloud, appeared less indifferent to our encompassed and uncertain existence And later with his brother Henry near Hebron What if that was An extraordinary tour de force from Roth Varying styles of narration, sub text commenting on subtext like Pale Fire, it was an exhilarating read There was a lot of quotable material Nathan Zuckerman at the Wailing Wall Rock is just right, I thought what on earth could be less responsive Even the cloud drifting overhead, Shuki s late father s Jewish cloud, appeared less indifferent to our encompassed and uncertain existence And later with his brother Henry near Hebron What if that was to be Act Three s awful surprise, the Zuckerman differences ending in blood, as though our family were Agamemmnon s Later, Nathan in the plane from Tel Aviv to London The treacherous imagination is everyone s maker we are all the invention of each other, everyone a conjuration conjuring up everyone else We are all each other s authors I was debating the merits of Philip Roth with a friend who, like me, idolizes Melville, Proust, Faulkner, Joyce, and Dostoyevsky and I was trying to see if how Roth could be compared to that sacred group He can create psychological tension like Melville the end of the plane ride , he can explore the subconscious and unconscious memory the various perspectives and particularly the first person narrations with all their perceptive insights , rather than Yoknapatawpha County, Roth s universe revolves around Newark and everyone who Nathan David Philip comes in contact with or as I was also thinking, the uncharted geography of Roth s mind I think he comes up short though because he does not achieve the incredible flexibility of language of Joyce, the promethian power of Faulkner and Dosto s writing, the intimate lucidity of Proust or the epic struggle with nature like Melville His subjects are vast though Family, mariage, friendship, memory, pain, loss, discovery, love, israel, diaspora, manhattan, father son, brother brother, husband mistress, husband wife, husband brother s mistress, lovers, ex s, cancer, heart problems, depression, angst, parenting, guilt, history, choices and consequences, alternative realities and interpretations And nearly all of these elements are present in The Counterlife.Ultimately, history will decide where Roth belongs in the pantheon of epic writers One thing for sure, The Counterlife was pure, unadulterated reading pleasure.RIP 1933 2018 One of America s literary giants has left us I can t tell you what this book is about because, for one thing, I don t want to spoil anything and, secondly, because I m not even sure what I just read It s one of those books where I had the desire to pinch myself while reading it, hoping it was all a dream But that doesn t work when I m wide awake and when the author has purposefully set out to confound me with different levels of reality, making my reading experience unreal And that isn t a compliment I disliked this story It was full I can t tell you what this book is about because, for one thing, I don t want to spoil anything and, secondly, because I m not even sure what I just read It s one of those books where I had the desire to pinch myself while reading it, hoping it was all a dream But that doesn t work when I m wide awake and when the author has purposefully set out to confound me with different levels of reality, making my reading experience unreal And that isn t a compliment I disliked this story It was full of meanness, anger, and hatred It was a sorrowful and soulless story, just like the characters populating it And just to complicate matters , I m going to say that, despite all that, I admired the author s writing, his pure skill at forming sentences in a self assured way that forced his ideas into my brain, forming a thought provoking story infused with much intelligence It s a shame there s so much disdain in it for humankind, religion, women, andIt s a shame it s blatantly anti Semitic It s a shame I didn t care about any of the characters It s a shame the story bored me by the end when I was captivated in the beginning Roth is an award winning author But he s not my kind of author, not if this one book I ve read by him is representative of his work My kind of author remembers his readers and the fact that he might want to communicate something of use to them instead of presenting pervasive pessimism I wanted to take Roth s ability to fashion sentences with acute observations about human beings and use it for a wholly different story that enriched me in some way But I don t think he cares if he pleases his readers or not, especially when droning on for the umpteenth time about things that perhaps should be worked out in therapy If he wants to crucify mankind, I wish he wouldn t use his readers as nails as he hammers away at them If you haven t read this book yet and wish to give it a try, proceed with caution Prepared to be impressed and depressed in equal measure I read it for my book club I m looking forward to the discussion and hopefully some commiseration Favorite quote The treacherous imagination is everybody s maker we are all the invention of each other, everybody a conjuration conjuring up everyone else We are all each other s authors One thing writing all these book reports has done is help me figure out why I read Our Lady of the Flowers really clarified some key reasons for it in an unavoidably brash, ballsy, obvious way even I could understand I read because my adult mind is worn out, is tired, it s limp and lazy, my mind s become frustratingly ineffectual and can t always get going It wants to love the world, but it s become increasingly difficult for it to muster the necessary excitement I ll be out walking around s One thing writing all these book reports has done is help me figure out why I read Our Lady of the Flowers really clarified some key reasons for it in an unavoidably brash, ballsy, obvious way even I could understand I read because my adult mind is worn out, is tired, it s limp and lazy, my mind s become frustratingly ineffectual and can t always get going It wants to love the world, but it s become increasingly difficult for it to muster the necessary excitement I ll be out walking around struggling to experience the glory of life, and my mind just hangs there, cold and unengaged, kind of flopping around.So the books I love are like drugs that artificially rouse my brain into intercourse with the world I do apologize for this dreadful analogy, but to me that s how it works Genet s my Cialis, which my exhausted aging mind needsandto perform.And conversely, the reason I just can t finish this book, is that to me Philip Roth is the anti Genet The Counterlife, rather than curing this troubling dysfunction, mimicked the beta blockers side effects that featured centrally in this book s plot In other words, for me, Roth s a real boner killer.The books I love convince me that the world s not what I fear that life s not just a drag, that people aren t deadly dull and essentially unappealing Roth s a fine writer, and his world view is powerful But his world view s the very one I m trying to escape by reading Running around town on the days I read this book, I saw everything and everyone through the lens of this horror that the crushingly boring, banal reality I ve always suspected is actually accurate That there s no romance or beauty in the world at all, that people are as disappointing at heart as I ve always suspected That, most unbearably, being intelligent doesn t make people interesting, and that a book being well written doesn t mean I ll like reading it.I hated, hated, hated this book I made it up to the part where he was writing the letter to his brother about his becoming a Zionist, and at that point I just couldn t go on I ve spent a lot of my life trying to avoid reading books just like this, and I tried okay, maybe not as hard as I should ve to overcome my prejudice, but it just made me remember why I stayed away in the first place I could actually write an extremely long, overly personal essay about what exactly I hate so much about this book, but it wouldn t be about the book at all, it d be about my life, and as my sainted mother has recently pointed out to me, one doesn t need to air all the details of one s private life and thoughts, just because the technology exists that allows one to do so.I guess this all means Roth must be pretty good, because his book definitely affected me strongly, almost physically I do still think, based admittedly on a very small sampling, that Roth s the literary equivalent of shopping at Macy s He s highly competent, accessible, and probably meets many many people s tastes But there s no romance here It s not exciting To me it was a confirmation of sinisterly familiar things that I d already known, and at the end of the day, I m like the romance readers I read to escape I need books to plump and firm my imagination so I can muster an enthusiasm for life that I don t naturally feel Reading Roth just creates late night bedroom scenes between me and the world, lots of tears and blaming, and everybody feels bad Who needs that I don t My relationship with the world s troubled enough as it is The last thing I need s problems in that area People are unjust to anger it can be enlivening and a lot of funPhilip Roth, The CounterlifeStructurally brilliant, with a prose that shoots aggressively off every page Roth begins his narrative with erectile disfunction and ends it with a nod to the circumcised erection of the Jewish father Roth is going to travel and transform He is going to elect for historical plastic surgery just so he can pick at every wound and irritate every scar of the past He will use and abuse every bias aPeople are unjust to anger it can be enlivening and a lot of funPhilip Roth, The CounterlifeStructurally brilliant, with a prose that shoots aggressively off every page Roth begins his narrative with erectile disfunction and ends it with a nod to the circumcised erection of the Jewish father Roth is going to travel and transform He is going to elect for historical plastic surgery just so he can pick at every wound and irritate every scar of the past He will use and abuse every bias and position that surrounds him This novel feels like Roth is trapped at one end by the extreme faction of Jewish nationalists s and at the other end by a loud American Diaspora and everything in between including the tweedy, green and quiet antiSemitism of England 99 percent of us would probably break or bend when presented with a cage like the one Roth has How as a Modern Jew do you breath when there is no cool place to put your feet No safe home No pastoral homeland If you are Roth, you fight You hit everyone You examine every word, every inflection and you prostrate your life and history You sacrifice the past, present and future to the narrative of your mare s nest You realize that pain and conflict is a helluva story You don t run from the extreme options, you get your passport and visas and visit the extremes and then you write a novel about them This is life Isn t life glorious GOOD NEWS I finished this book.BAD NEWS Although I ve long been a fan of Philip Roth s work, after reading this one, I moved some Roth books on my to read shelf so far down the list that I may wind up reading them posthumously when my solar calendar and Jewish calendar have been replaced by an eternity calendar The odds in Vegas were heavily tilted in favor of my liking THE COUNTERLIFE Hey, the book contains material on subjects of considerable interest to me anti Semitism, the non Jewis GOOD NEWS I finished this book.BAD NEWS Although I ve long been a fan of Philip Roth s work, after reading this one, I moved some Roth books on my to read shelf so far down the list that I may wind up reading them posthumously when my solar calendar and Jewish calendar have been replaced by an eternity calendar The odds in Vegas were heavily tilted in favor of my liking THE COUNTERLIFE Hey, the book contains material on subjects of considerable interest to me anti Semitism, the non Jewish world s expectations of Israel, the broad spectrum of ways to experience one s Jewishness, interfaith marriage, siblings who expose and or distort others private lives, tough choices created by medical conditions, andI should have appreciated this novel, and if I were a fast reader who zipped through it in one or two sittings, I might have But the often dense prose, the unnecessary reiteration, the challenge of separating Roth s characters from his writer protagonist s characters, and the absence of a character that generates an I feel your pain or your anything response werethan enough to make me repeatedly check the number of the last page as if the re checking might lower it I felt like a kid riding across the country in an old car with no air conditioning How manymiles With a few pages read, I kept giving in to the urge to take a nap.Despite my feeling relief as I read the last word, I should mention that, during the trip that seemed much longer than it was, I did occasionally come across situations that were funny and remarks that were powerfully phrased and just plain true A masterpiece When I reread it again I ll makeextensive notes A real knock out of a novel and funny Sexuality and Judaism Ruth s pet themesSexuality, Judaism and role reversals, this book is full with them.Nathan Zukerman, married to a much younger English woman he supposedly seduced and stole away from her quarrelsome husband, is on the trail of his younger brother Henry, a New Jersey dentist with a loyal wife and three children Henry is prematurely impotent from a heart medication and undergoes a mind altering operation to fix his ailment so that he can go on banging his dental assistant Sexuality and Judaism Ruth s pet themesSexuality, Judaism and role reversals, this book is full with them.Nathan Zukerman, married to a much younger English woman he supposedly seduced and stole away from her quarrelsome husband, is on the trail of his younger brother Henry, a New Jersey dentist with a loyal wife and three children Henry is prematurely impotent from a heart medication and undergoes a mind altering operation to fix his ailment so that he can go on banging his dental assistant and salvage his manhood Henry dies during the procedure and Nathan attends his funeral in New Jersey Then it is revealed that Harry has survived the operation, experienced an epiphany, and deserted his family for Israel to take up arms with a pro settlement renegade named Lippman Then comes another reversal we find out that it is Henry who is attending Nathan s funeral, and it is the latter who had the sexual dysfunction and went through the unsuccessful operation to secure the fealty of his younger wife My head was spinning at this point and I decided to focus on the dialogue and on Roth s commanding narrative style to find out what the heck he was trying to convey through this novel.I m inclined to believe that both stories, Nathan s and Henry s death scenarios, are fictitious and that Roth through his alter ego, Nathan is suggesting that we are all each others authors, that it is only through others that our lives get their shapes and their stories He also uses this novel to go into voluminous discussions on what it is to be Jew in America vs a Jew in Israel The former is an assimilated part of the New World, wielding the power levers of finance and culture, while the latter is a colonizer determined to squash the encircling Arabs with a display of raw power Both types of Jewry are estranged from each other Henry is trying to be the bridge between the two but he doesn t quite make it in this book As Nathan summarizes in a letter to Henry there are a lot of letters in this novel , a bit of a cop out when Roth is stuck to explain a point You ve become a Jewish activist, a man of political commitment, driven by ideological conviction, studying the ancient tribal tongue and living sternly apart from your family, your possessions, and your practice on a rocky hillside in biblical Judea I ve become a bourgeois husband, a London homeowner, and at forty five, a father to be, married this time to a country reared, Oxford educated English woman You have a land, a people, a heritage, a cause, a gun, an enemy, and a mentor I have none of these things The Jew vs Gentile conflict is also explored, for Nathan finds his wife s his fourth wife and the first to bear him a child family to be both overtly and assertively anti Semitic He provokes a quarrel with her in order to explore this prejudice further and ends up estranged again In the process he learns that he doesn t do pastoral very well, but needs to be constantly embroiled in conflict in order to thrive I suspect that this material comes from personal experience, for Roth did live with actress Clair Bloom in England for several years, a relationship that ended in acrimony He was also the second brother in his family, and in real life lived the inversion of the fictitious Nathan and Henry roles, a form of counterlife.The other subject that is heavily on the table is male sexuality, a subject deeply associated with Roth s oeuvre And this subject is bookended with the imagery of impotent men in their forties at the beginning of the book and a tumescent and healthy circumcised penis at the end of the novel In the middle we see the lengths that men will go to restore their libido, the life force that drives them, according to Roth Less developed themes were those of sibling rivalry, the soft genocide a.k.a Jews marrying Gentiles in America and the mouth as a sexual organ imagine the life of a dentist if this were so Apart from the intellectual arguments and the frenetic humour, I was left unfulfilled by this novel And that could very well be because there was no real conclusion Who really died and who lived in this book is never answered Were the disparate chapters merely Nathan s writing experiments for future novels, for surely there wereNathan Zukerman novels that Roth produced after this one One thing I took away from the book was that for a writer like Roth, the fictitious world was part of his real world and that he couldn t function in the real world without his fictitious one Perhaps with the blending of what could have been a real story Henry s death, or vice versa with a fictitious one Nathan s death, or vice versa we see this counterlife illustrated Take your pick, for it is us readers who give these characters and their author their interpreted life stories.READING PROGRESSStarted Reading Add a dateJuly 7, 2018 ShelvedJuly 7, 2018 Finished ReadingPost a comment COMMENTS showing 1 2 of 2 date newest &FREE PDF ⇮ The Counterlife ☙ Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for FictionThe Counterlife is about people living their dreams of renewal and escape, some of them going so far as to risk their lives to alter their destinies Wherever they find themselves, the characters of The Counterlife are tempted by the prospect of an alternative existenceIlluminating these lives in free fall and transformation is the acrobat mind of novelist Nathan Zuckerman His is the sceptical, enveloping intelligence that calculates the price that s paid in the struggle to change personal fortune and reshape history, whether in a dentist s office in suburban New Jersey a tradition bound English Village in Gloucestershire a church in London s West End or in a tiny desert settlement in Israel s occupied West Bank Shot through with head turning dualities, as daring as it is moving, The Counterlife reinvents the novel with style, wit and grace I loved Philip Roth s The Counterlife It was one of those rare books that could make me feel a multitude of emotions and it took me by surprise It is rare that books truly take me by surprise and have unexpected twists in the plots This book did everything.In the beginning this book offended me I was outraged by the raw, raunchiness of it I hated the character of Henry He disgusted me I hated the way he left his family to have an affair I hated the way he risked his life to have a danger I loved Philip Roth s The Counterlife It was one of those rare books that could make me feel a multitude of emotions and it took me by surprise It is rare that books truly take me by surprise and have unexpected twists in the plots This book did everything.In the beginning this book offended me I was outraged by the raw, raunchiness of it I hated the character of Henry He disgusted me I hated the way he left his family to have an affair I hated the way he risked his life to have a dangerous and unnecessary heart surgery just so he wouldn t be impotent any so that he could continue his sexual affair with his dental assistant I hate how immoral he was I hated the way the book seemed so raw and sexual as well I ll admit I may be a bit biased in thinking that as my initial reaction though I read this book as part of required reading for Dr Jesse Zuba s The American Novel class The first week we began reading this book I was chosen to lead the class in discussion about it The chapter, Basel, discussed Henry s sex life or lack thereof in detail, making for a rather awkward class discussion, to say the least.The second chapter, Judea amused me and broadened my way of thinking I found it interesting the way that Henry decided to go to Judea after his surgery to try to recreate himself into an overly zealous Jew, abandoning everything in life just for his religion and for a chance to connect with his born heritage I liked the arguments about identity and the questions raised Does our ancestry or heritage really matter How do we identify ourselves Is our identity in our blood or is it in our lifestyle I never really gave this much thought, but Roth makes an interesting point Yes, I have Irish, Scottish and Germany blood but is this really part of my identity I m proud of my heritage, but I m not sure I d say I identify with it My identity is that of an American America is all I ve ever known I ve never been to Scotland, Ireland, or Germany I can t begin to tell you anything about it because I ve never had any experiences with it.Gloucestershire served as the climax of the novel and the point where I realized just how much of a gem this novel truly is In this chapter we learn that everything we were previously set up to believe was all a lie We were never reading about Henry s life at all, but rather, Nathan s life fictionalized to be Henry s We were reading the first few chapters of Nathan s novel Suddenly Nathan didn t seem as innocent or revolutionary to me any I HATED him How dare he write such things about all of his family members I was outraged But then I thought to myself he is a writer This is what writers do they write fiction They make things up But was what he was doing ethical Was it right I am a writer, just like Nathan When I read about the way that Nathan disguised his own life in his writing by pretending these things happened to others in his life, I began to question the ethics of writing Would I have done the same thing It s hard to say Mostly everything I write, whether fiction or non fiction, has been influenced by people I know in real life I have written fiction stories with real people doing extreme things I have written fiction stories based on real life events that were exaggerated just like Nathan did Although I am outraged and offended by Nathan, I realize there s many times that I ve done very similar, if not the same, things as Nathan Nathan is just the typical writer using his writing as a way to express himself and maybe say things he wasn t to say but doesn t know how to With writing a person can wear a mask They can change life and cater it to be exactly as they see it or want to see it Looking back, although at first I was initially offended by it, maybe this isn t such a problem after all Writing is creative It allows us to make ourselves and those around us into anything we want them to be The danger doesn t lie in writing, but rather, life when it comes to role playing and identity creation When we try to be or make others into things that they are not in real life, that s a real problem It s best to just let those things stay in fictional worlds in the written word.The Counterlife gets a full five star rating from me for raising interesting questions about life and ethics that I have not previously considered, taking me by surprise in ways I never could have imagined, and helping me to re examine and re evaluate my own life Not many books have as much power as this one does, making this one a true stand out gem This book is really great It s a unique experience reading it just because of the way it s structured, diving into metafiction head first, let alone the pull no punches prose of Roth that s not afraid to push the envelope and be funny at the same time It s an intelligent and insightful look at identity, relationships and the role of a writer A great novel.