Evidently Roth has taken a cue from the ipnfessional briefs of women's lib, which he himself had influenced through “Portnoy.” At one point he imagines Maureen suggesting that he call his book “My Martyrdom as a Man.” If Mailer's “The Prisoner of Sex” was a selfserving theoretical attack on women's lib, “My.
‐Life as a Men” is an unpolemical mirror‐image of Its literature, a case study of “female rage and resentment” as a contribution to the literature of inter‐sexual victimization. As Rothe alter‐ego tells us repeatedly, his awful marriage became an obsession that continued to haunt him after he left his wife and even after her accidental death.
It became obvious that Roth had no power of what critics once called invention; he was unable to inspirit a plot or characters that were the least bit outside his own experience.
In his new book “My Life as a Man,” which deals with the operatically unhappy marriage of a successful young writer, Roth returns to the quasi‐autobiographical mode of “Portnoy” and “Goodbye, Columbus,” and the result is good enough to confirm the misdirection of the last three books, just as “Portnoy” revealed what was misting from the three that preceded it.
” The author has no handle on his material; he is still too close to it; despite the analysis he's been unable to work it through. No matter how I may contrive to transform low taactuality into high art, that is invariably what is emblazoned across the face of the narrative, in blood: HOW COULD SHE? As in his other work, but more so, Roth makes an intense effort to transcend “art” and get down to unpleasant facts, which consist mainly of unpleasant facts about other people. “What made me so pathetic in dealing with Maureen in her wildest moments was that I simply could not believe that anybody like her could exist in a world that had been advertised to Peter's oyster.”But Peter chooses such women, and partly because they are so much like his adoring, impossible mother.
When Peter reaches the point of telling how Maureen had tricked him into marriage, feigning pregnancy by buying a specimen of someone else's urine, he admits that he's tried and failed for five years to get the story into his fiction (just as Roth struggled in earlier books with the whole subject of marriage): “I cannot make it credible—probably because I don't entirely believe it myself. Roth's hero is typically obsessed by the difference between the world of his childhood, when he was his mother's “young prince,” and the fate that awaited him as an adult, especially at the hands of Woman. There are usually two sorts of women in Roth's heroes' lives: bitchy, castrating women who attract and destroy them, and doting sexual slaves who eventually bore them.This is a digitized version of an article from The Times’s print archive, before the start of online publication in 1996.To preserve these articles as they originally appeared, The Times does not alter, edit or update them.Unable to combine love and sensuality his men read like textbook cases out of Freud's essay on “The Most Prevalent Form of Degradation in Erotic Life.”However painful this feeling of victimization can be for the man, for a writer it can be peculiarly poisonous if it prevents hire from granting full reality to his characters and from getting any distance on the troubles of his protagonist.The wife Maureen might as well be a creature from Mars: Peter‐‐and Roth—haven't clue about whet makes her tick, or why he stays and collaborates with her.Now even Richard Nixon, as closed and stagey a figure as ever walked the public boards, has gambled his neck in a reckless act of self‐humiliation, trying, like an avant‐garde writer, to pick up all the marbles by achieving a new “breakthrough,” by daring to tell “the worst.”No writer, not even Mailer or Lowell, has contributed more to the confessional climate than Philip Roth.Thanks to “Portnoy's Complaint” a good slice of contemporary fiction seems to come verbatim from the writer's own hours on the couch.It confirms that despite his superb gifte as a mimic, tummler and hyperbolist Roth is only good at fantastioating materials from his own life.As a satirist of Nixon or Bill Veeck he is clever but uninspired.The result of this conversion was three thoroughly dismal and mostly unfunny books, “Our Gang” (an inept, mean‐spirited satire on Nixon), “The Breast” (a grotesque fantasy of sexual metamorphosis and infantile regression) and “The Great American Novel” (an aimless, hyped‐up catalogue of big‐league baseball fantasies).This last book did contain a few marvelous scenes of Paul Bunyanesque Americana, tall tales woven out of the circus side of baseball history, but after a hundred pages Roth lost all notion of what to do next and simply gassed on repetitiously, hoping to be saved by sheer bad taste.