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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Monday, February 15, 2010

Can't he see how bad this book is?

Part 2 of "The Humbling" was a fantasy of seduction - aging actor (I almost wrote "writer") still wins beautiful 40ish lesbian woman who who leaves her current relationship and makes her self over and basically enslaves herself to him. Part 3 is a fantasy of self-pity. The woman (Pegeen Mike) of course leaves him (Axler), but not until after a sex scene in which she totally dominates him (echo of Zuckerman Bound) and another scene in which they're joined by another woman (echo of Portnoy, but only a distant echo - much less funny). When she leaves, Axler wallows in his misery again, phones Pegeen's parents (his theater friends from years back) and berates them. He also recalls the woman (Sylvia?) from part one, whom he'd met in the psychiatric hospital, who wants to kill her abusive husband. In part 3 Axler learns through news reports that she's done so, and he's inspired by her courage, inspired enough to, at the end, shoot himself (and leave behind a note quoting The Seagull, which also ends with a suicide). Well, to my memory the suicide victim in The Seagull was a young man whose life lay ahead of him. In Philip Roth's "The Humbling" the victim is an old man whose work is behind him. Our emotions are entirely different - in fact, I'm sorry to say, I had no emotion whatever at the conclusion of this thin book. To put it bluntly, the story is barely sketched in, largely told in long patches of stagy dialogue. Roth never examines the interior life of the characters. Axler does not grow or change at all through the course of this story, he's miserable start to finish. I have loved Roth's work for many years and nothing will take away from his lifetime of accomplishment - I hope he is recognized with a Nobel before long - but this book not only does nothing for her reputation but it makes me (and others?) worry seriously about Roth's mental condition. Can't he see how transparent this book is? Can't he see how bad it is? Can't anyone? Can't everyone?

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