Prufrock's Page

Monday, October 24, 2005

Say Cheese, Mr Roth

Writing in The Boston Globe, Amherst College professor Ilan Stavans reveals that he's oddly schizophrenic when it comes to assessing Philip Roth:

"Recently The New York Times ran a piece about the author accompanied by a photograph of him near his Connecticut home. Roth wasn't smiling; his look was stern, even sour. He appeared upset.

"That isn't surprising. I've seen scores of Roth photographs. I don't remember a single one of him smiling. In private life, I'm sure he does, of course, but not in public. In public, he is the definition of irritation.

"Roth's public demeanor, his unsympathetic gesture, is his signature. He's annoyed at America. His books are razor-sharp, intelligent, but also humorless. They are scornful, derisive, and sardonic, the forms of humor preferred by the egotist. And Roth is a self-professed egotist.

"All of which, of course, doesn't detract an iota from his talent; it only increases its echoes. Roth is, unquestionably, the most significant Jewish-American writer of his generation."

Memo to Roth: The next time you're faced with a camera, please smile. It's one way of winning over your critics.


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