EverymanI don’t have the time I wish I had to read books. If I succesfully carve out some hours for reading I tend to read the magazines that pile up on my coffee table (Atlantic, New Yorker, Harper’s etc) — it’s something I don’t need too much of a “mood” for.

As with anything, there is the occasional exception — in my case it’s Philip Roth. A new Roth book automatically creates a reading mood, even though two and a half hours later that mood can be sullen, rotten and overly pensive.

Several books Roth’s has written over the past decade deal with death in one form or another. But it’s never been so in your face as it is in his last book, “Everyman,” a chronicle of an average man’s life — so average he doesn’t even need a name. It’s the story of the body, the human body, an instrument that will fail us all and one we cannot maintain in good shape for too long: “Old age isn’t a battle, old age is a massacre.”

Roth himself is getting old (he is 73, although that doesn’t make him less productive) and I can’t help wonder if the great novelist shares the omnious fear of death his character has had since he was nine.

I guess that sometimes as a reader you look to your favorite writer to help you defeat your own anxieties and fears. Not this time — this time Roth decided to have me wallow in mine. It was a tough and scary ride, but the book is, as the Atlantic dears to say, a “masterpiece.” And the Atlantic goes on: “Every sentence is urgent, essential, almost nonfictional. The sophistication and indirection forced on practically every writer are replaced by a straightforwardness of, yes, masterly authority.”

“Everyman” doesn’t have a suprise ending — after all, death is no suprise. But it’s furious while telling the story of this one life.

“He’d married three times, had mistresses and children and an interesting job where he’d been a success, but now eluding death seemed to have become the central business of his life and bodily decay his entire story.”

It seems I’ve been reading too many books about death and bodily decay, but it’s not my fault that the people I enjoy reading all picked up the topic (Joan Didion in “The Year of Magical Thinking”; Marquez in “Memories of my melancholy whores”). And it’s one subject that never gets old. Here is Roth’s character pondering his life in the retirement community he moved into after the attacks of 9/11 pushed him out of New York:

“How long could he watch the tides flood in and out without his remembering, as anyone might in a sea-gazing reverie, that life had been given to him, as to all, randomly, fotuitously, and but one, and for no known or knowable reason?”

2 Responses to “Everyman”

  1. That book sounds utterly absorbing. I’d like to put it on my “wanted” list for Xmas suggestions. But I also wonder if some older family members might like to get it as a present (from me). Maybe not.

    One would probably laugh. The other would probably read every morbid detail and then accuse me of exacerbating their already obsessive fear.

    I wonder what my reaction will be when the time comes. I already see small changes in my functioning… and it’s none too comforting, I must admit.

  2. I’ve started reading everyman two weeks after the university exams ended here in Greece (it was a choice from my writing professor). I find it interesting and very absorbing although I’m too young (Is anyone young enough to have the following priviledge?) to bother with the matter of death. I’m excited as I realise that there are these kind of literature. Both my parents are going to read it, as it will consist one of my recommendations.

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