This month's Book of the Month is Goodbye, Columbus (1959), Philip Roth's first novel, the one that made him famous among the literati and for which he won the National Book Award. (Can someone explain to me the significance of the title, please?)
I've never understood why people say Roth is America's greatest living writer. So I decided recently to find out why. My previous impression had been that he was a self-referential narcissist who wrote the same book over and over. I've tried reading a couple of his novels but I've always felt I was coming into a movie halfway through, perplexed and confused by the reappearance of the same characters and the insipid plot (or lack of it.)
Goodbye, Columbus has changed my mind about this. I still think Roth is a narcissist, but he's a talented narcissist, a man who knows himself and has the talent to put himself on the page in such a way that the reader can almost see and hear him.
I was startled by the brilliance of his dialogue. Why didn't somebody tell me Roth was America's greatest living dialogue writer? That I can wholly agree with, even after only one book.
I am currently reading the short stories that were originally included in the volume with Goodbye, Columbus, which is a novella. The stories are surprisingly different from Goodbye - much grittier, more obviously "Jewish," and harder for me to understand.
Because I like to read something about an author whose work I'm exploring for the first time I picked up Claire Bloom's 1996 memoir, Leaving a Doll's House. As you can tell from the title, Bloom is not gentle with Roth and their lengthy relationship and short marriage. It would seem, if Bloom can be relied on, that Roth suffers from that well-known malady, Portnoy's Complaint.