three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
32-Jan-Feb-2008
By: 
Philip Roth
user_rating: 
0

A-Exit GhostA few days before George Bush's reelection in 2004, 71-year-old Nathan Zuckerman emerges from 11 years of writing in self-imposed isolation. He returns to New York City for a medical procedure that he hopes will cure the incontinence resulting from his previous prostate cancer treatment. While there, he unexpectedly reconnects with his past and decides to stay. Battling impotence and memory loss, Zuckerman defies his mortality and stages one last stand by falling for a much younger woman, rekindling his friendship with Amy Bellette, and trying to save the reputation of his long-dead literary mentor I. E. Lonoff by preventing a tell-all biography from being written.
Houghton Mifflin. 292 pages. $26. ISBN: 0618915478

NY Times Book Review 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Exit Ghost is just too fascinating to leave alone. ... Actually-leaving aside all questions about authorial identity for the moment-this book is latter-day Roth at his intricately thoughtful best, and a vivid reminder of why a dystopian satirical fantasy like The Plot Against America was comparatively weak." Clive James

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Exit Ghost is an intriguing, intricate novel. ... Roth invests what might have been a bleak tale of desperation with a triumphant examination of the exigencies of age, illness, and fame." Robert Allen Papinchak

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"From these bare bones of a plot, Mr. Roth has created a melancholy, if occasionally funny, meditation on aging, mortality, loneliness and the losses that come with the passage of time . ... This volume is definitely a modest undertaking, but it has a sense of heartfelt emotion . . . and for fans of the Zuckerman books, it provides a poignant coda to Nathan's story, putting a punctuation point to his journey from youthful idealism and passion through midlife confusion and angst toward elderly renunciation." Michiko Kakutani

Chicago Tribune 3 of 5 Stars
"[Nathan Zuckerman's] stern, rigorously thought out morality, his lawyerly intensity flood the page. They produce strange, prickly plants, not always pretty but more interesting than what the writers workshops and the universities produce." D.T. Max

Washington Post 3 of 5 Stars
"As a portrait of the artist as an old man, Exit Ghost delivers pages of great, sad power. But as a work of art it feels unfocused, never quite drawing together its various threads but, in the end, simply relinquishing them." Michael Dirda

Houston Chronicle 2.5 of 5 Stars
"For an ardent admirer of Roth's almost half-century of work (Goodbye, Columbus appeared in 1959), Exit Ghost is a disappointment and a frustration." Patrick Kur

Los Angeles Times 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Roth loses his authority when he writes about Zuckerman's infatuation with Jamie, which comes off as unseemly and out of place. Imagination aside, his obsession is oddly adolescent, less the expression of an old man yearning for something he's forever lost than of a horny schoolboy, fixated on her physical charms." David L. Ulin

Philadelphia Inquirer 2 of 5 Stars
"How, hypothetically, would one review Exit Ghost if it were a first novel by an unknown? Conversational and readable, clichÃ(c)d in its larger plot, lacking fresh imagery or arresting wordplay, and unconvincing in the judgments it tries to shove down the reader's throat." Carlin Romano

Critical Summary

Veteran novelist Philip Roth labels Exit Ghost the "last ordeal" of his returning fictional narrator Nathan Zuckerman, a character whom critics hailed as one of "the supreme creations of American fiction" (Houston Chronicle). Though some critics found this last chapter of Zuckerman's life powerful and compelling, others thought that the character-and the novel-lacked focus and that some plot points, particularly Zuckerman's obsession with the decades-younger Jamie, were unconvincing. As always, Roth's prose is unrivaled, and his stark depiction of old age and caustic observations of 21st-century society hit the mark. But newcomers may want to start with another of Roth's novels. Devoted fans, however, will enjoy "connecting all the new dots to previous Zuckerman lore" (Philadelphia Inquirer).

First in the Zuckerman Series

The Ghost Writer (1979): Set in the 1950s, a young and lusty Nathan Zuckerman seeks out his literary idol, short story writer I. E. Lonoff, for guidance and advice on art and life.