three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
23-July-Aug-2006
By: 
Philip Roth
user_rating: 
0

A-EverymanAn ordinary, unnamed man in his 70s uses his funeral as a stepping-off point to consider his mortal life. There are the marriages (three), the children (two begrudging sons, one doting daughter), the career (advertising), and the obsessions (death and sex, though not necessarily in that order). As our narrator thumbs through his back pages, reliving his sickly youth in New Jersey with Jewish immigrant parents, coveting his brother’s success, and battling against the infirmity of flesh, he struggles to make sense of being human. With shades of the 16th-century morality play of the same name and Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Philip Roth makes his own bid for immortality by plumbing the depths of his own soul.
Houghton Mifflin. 192 pages. $24. ISBN: 061873516X

NY Times Book Review 5 of 5 Stars
"If Portnoy has never been outgrown, only grown old, he is, in his present avatar, an everyman whose creator makes the term ‘insight’ something to be tossed away as inadequate. What Roth knows of the opposition/apposition of the body and the intellect is devastatingly profound and cannot be escaped." Nadine Gordimer

Boston Globe 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Everyman is a brief, piercing novel, a grim cri de coeur that has all the mellifluous authenticity of the Kaddish. Its first three words are ‘Around the grave,’ and even after that resounding start, the book is almost impossible to stop reading, whether one is swept up in the story’s desolate fluency or scans it for autobiographical details." Gail Caldwell

Providence Journal 4.5 of 5 Stars
"In Everyman there is an underlying pathos that is not always as evident in his other works. Both he and the reader have the realization of a life misled, but only after it seems too late. Between the lines, we are always being asked, How do we know that the life we are leading is the right life? What if every brilliant calculation is worthless in the end?" Adam Braver

Wall Street Journal 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The book is superbly written and acutely observed; but by relentlessly exposing the end of life as a pointless cataclysm Mr. Roth, unlike Tolstoy, can’t offer anything in the way of wisdom or even practical advice about how to make our final exit. … The novel is full of deft reportage about life among the prosperous bourgeois, even if the author thinks that all their doings are for naught." George Sim Johnston

Slate.com 3 of 5 Stars
"What’s lacking in Everyman isn’t darkness—there’s darkness in abundance—but that dark joy of the total ironist, of the writer who always knew the natural world was both the sole author of his desires and their mortal enemy. Everyman is a sustained and often beautiful performance, but we should identify much of its suffering for what it is: not a muted existential cri de coeur in an age of The Selfish Gene but a grumble at the loss of virility in an age of Viagra." Steven Metcalf

Ft. Worth Star-Telegram 2 of 5 Stars
"[C]ompared with his most memorable hound-dog creations, namely Alexander Portnoy in Portnoy’s Complaint (1969) and Mickey Sabbath in Sabbath’s Theater (1995), The Everyman’s exploits come off as predictable and banal—he’s just another guy who couldn’t keep it in his pants. … Have we become conditioned to expect too much of Roth, whose recent production has been downright head-spinning?" Christopher Kelly

New York Times 1.5 of 5 Stars
"The problem is, this nameless fellow turns out to be generic, rather than universal: a faceless cutout of a figure who feels like a composite assembled from bits and pieces of earlier Roth characters. Spending time with this guy is like being buttonholed at a party by a remote acquaintance who responds to a casual ‘Hi, how are you?’ with a half-hour whinge-fest about his physical ailments, medical treatments and spiritual complaints." Michiko Kakutani

Critical Summary

Roth’s late-career surge has the Minneapolis Star-Tribune wondering if the esteemed writer is "juicing himself on the literary equivalent of steroids." After the success of The Plot Against America ( 4 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2004), the Pulitzer Prize-National Book Award-PEN/Nabokov–winning author shifts his focus from the political to the intensely personal. The critics divide into two camps: those that see Everyman as a cohesive blend of Roth’s thematic concerns and those that feel he’s just treading the same old ground he covered in The Dying Animal, but with much less success. It’s a tug of war of expectations, with the supporters of this 27th novel outnumbering the disappointed. For a man who once said, "Sheer playfulness and deadly seriousness are my closest friends," expect more of the latter from this short, meditative work.