Philip Roth
Philip Roth; drawing by David Levine

American Pastoral is Philip Roth’s twentieth work of fiction—an accretion of creative energy, a yearly, or almost, place at the starting line of a marathon. But his is a one-man sprint with the signatures, the gestures, the deep breathing, and the repetitiveness, sometimes, of an obsessive talent. Roth has his themes, spurs to his virtuoso variations and star turns in triple time. His themes are Jews in the world, especially in Israel, Jews in the family, Jews in Newark (New Jersey); fame, vivid enough to occasion impostors (Operation Shylock); literature, since the narrators, or, if you like, the performers are writers, actually one writer, Philip Roth, winking under whatever dark-glasses alias. And sex, anywhere in every manner, a penitential workout on the page with no thought of backaches, chafings, or phallic fatigue. Indeed the novels are prickled like a sea urchin with the spines and fuzz of many indecencies.

In American Pastoral we are, on the first page, once more in Newark; and on page sixteen a question is posed to which the answer is, yes, “I’m Zuckerman the author.” Nathan Zuckerman is the author of Carnovsky (Zuckerman Unbound), an alternative title like those sometimes used in foreign transla-tions. In English, the novel is, of course, Portnoy’s Complaint, which provoked among many other responses an eruption of scandal; and the author of the book that brought about a fame and a “recognition factor” equal to that of Mick Jagger is Philip Roth. Or so it is in Zuckerman Unbound, where even a young funeral director, attending the remains of a Prince Seratelli, pauses to ask for the author’s autograph—all part of this wild, very engaging minstrel show in which the writing of a book, Portnoy or Carnovsky, not just any book, may serve as the lively plot for a subsequent book. Of course, we cannot attach Zuckerman or David Kepesh or Peter Tarnopol or Alexander Portnoy to Philip Roth like a fingernail. Not always.

However, if he follows Zuckerman to The Anatomy Lesson, the reader will gain or lose a shiver of interest if he knows that the late critic Irving Howe published in the magazine Commentary some forthright reservations about Roth’s work and that Howe is the “source” of Milton Appel in a rebuttal by Zuckerman or Roth. Howe had written, among other thoughts, some favorable, that “What seems really to be bothering Portnoy is a wish to sever his sexuality from his moral sensibilities, to cut it away from his self as historical creature. It’s as if he really supposed the super-ego, or post coitum triste, were a Jewish invention.”

Zuckerman or Roth cries out some years later in The Anatomy Lesson: “Milton Appel had unleashed an attack upon Zuckerman’s career that made Macduff’s assault upon Macbeth look almost lackadaisical. Zuckerman should have been so lucky as to come away with decapitation. A head wasn’t enough for Appel; he tore you limb from limb.” If he is indeed torn limb from limb, this ferocious paraplegic author pursues Appel/Howe in a motorized wheelchair for almost forty pages.

The structure of Roth’s fiction is based often upon identifying tirades rather than actions and counter-actions, tirades of perfervid brilliance, and this is what he can do standing on his head or hanging out the window if need be. The tirades are not to be thought of as mere angry outbursts in the kitchen after a beer or two, although they are usually angry enough since most of the characters are soreheads of outstanding volubility. The monologues are a presentation of self, often as if on the stage of some grungy Comédie Française, if such an illicit stretch may be allowed. Here is Monkey, the trailer-park Phèdre of Portnoy’s Complaint, in a cameo appearance:

picking on me all the time—in just the way you look at me you pick on me, Alex! I open the door at night, I’m so dying to see you, thinking all day long about nothing but you, and there are those fucking orbs already picking out every single thing that’s wrong with me! As if I’m not insecure enough, as if insecurity isn’t my whole hang-up, you get that expression all over your face the minute I open my mouth…oh, shit, here comes another dumb and stupid remark out of that brainless twat…. Well, I’m not brainless, and I’m not a twat either, just because I didn’t go to fucking Harvard! And don’t give me any more of your shit about behaving in front of The Lindsays. Just who the fuck are The Lindsays? A God damn mayor, and his wife! A fucking mayor! In case you forget, I was married to one of the richest men in France when I was still eighteen years old—I was a guest at Aly Khan’s for dinner, when you were still back in Newark, New Jersey, finger-fucking your little Jewish girl friends!

There you have Monkey and her expressive grievance.


For tirades and diatribes of a more demanding content, nothing Roth has written equals the bizarre explosions of Operation Shylock, a rich, original work composed with an unforgiving complexity if one is trying to unravel the design. It is about the double, the impersonator, the true self, one’s own estimation, and the false self known to the public, the latter brilliantly examined in an account of the trial in Jerusalem of Ivan the Terrible, the allegedly murderous Ukrainian at Treblinka, who is also Demjanjuk, “good old Johnny, the gardener from Cleveland, Ohio.” And standing at not too great a distance from the actual ground of the novel we are reminded of the bad Philip Roth, creator for laughs of American Jewish life in its underwear; and, on the other hand, Philip Roth, artist, observer, inspired comedian of the letter J—“the litanist of the fleas, the knave, the thane, the ribboned stick, the bellowing breeches”—comedian of the folkloric Portnoys and others of their kind.

Operation Shylock: Philip Roth in New York, recovering from depression and suicidal impulses brought on by the drug Halcion. (The doubling mystery of pharmaceutical messages—may cause insomnia or drowsiness. Remember President George Bush, reportedly on the drug, ever windblown and smiling as he relentlessly raced up and down in his “cigarette” boat on the waters outside the summer White House in Kennebunkport, Maine.) Roth, from Halcion, down as a bottom-dwelling flatfish, is planning to go to Israel to interview the novelist Aharon Appelfeld. He learns, as if he had already departed and landed, that someone is giving interviews and lectures under his name, speaking on the radio and announcing an appearance in the King David Hotel on the subject: “Diasporism: The Only Solution to the Jewish Problem. A lecture by Philip Roth.” The double, the impostor, given the fairy-tale name of Pipik, is one of the disputatious inhabitants of the mind of the actual Roth who creates at interesting length the faux, but not altogether faux, debate on the present position of Israel in the world.

Diasporism: “The time has come to return to the Europe that was for centuries, and remains to this day, the most authentic Jewish homeland there has ever been, the birthplace of rabbinic Judaism, Hasidic Judaism, Jewish secularism, socialism—on and on. The time has come to renew in the European Diaspora our pre-eminent spiritual and cultural role.” In questions and counter-arguments between the true and the false Philip Roth, the horror of the Holocaust is remembered but is now claimed to be a “bulwark against European anti-Semitism.” The mad Pipik is arguing in effect: Europe’s had that, it’s over. “No such bulwark exists in Islam. Exterminating a Jewish nation would cause Islam to lose not a single night’s sleep, except for the great night of celebration. I think you would agree that a Jew is safer today walking aimlessly around Berlin than going unarmed into the streets of Ramallah.”

Pipik has not only, in the name of Roth, proposed his program of Diasporism, he has also organized A.S.A., Anti-Semites Anonymous, which leads to the appearance in the plot of a nurse who is valiantly and with commendable self-discipline in “recovery,” she having taken the twelve steps. In this Israel, “the pasturalization of the ghetto,” prophets and pundits roam the streets, all the while giving off the noise and fumes of opinion. Here, Philip Roth encounters an acquaintance from the past, a Harvard-educated Egyptian enrolled at Roth’s time as a graduate student at the University of Chicago, and now a famous professor. His name is George Ziad (sic). Zee, as he is called, is also a Diasporist, but for his own reason. His program is to get the Jews out of Israel and thereby return the land to his ancestors, the Palestinians.

Believing that the old Philip Roth of his acquaintance has been transmogrified into the passionate Diasporist of Pipik’s caper, Zee holds forth with feeling about the sufferings of the Palestinians and the inferiority and provincialism of Israeli culture by comparison with that of the Jews in their true homeland, Manhattan. “There is more Jewish spirit and Jewish laughter and Jewish intelligence on the Upper West Side of Manhattan than in this entire country…. There’s more Jewish heart at the knish counter at Zabar’s than in the whole of the Knesset!”

Then the true Philip Roth, taking on the garments of the impostor, Pipik, performs in his fluent rhythms about the greatest Diasporist of all, Irving Berlin.


The radio was playing “Easter Parade” and I thought, But this is Jewish genius on a par with the Ten Commandments. God gave Moses the Ten Commandments and then He gave to Irving Berlin “Easter Parade” and “White Christmas.” …Easter he turns into a fashion show and Christmas into a holiday about snow. Gone is the gore and the murder of Christ—down with the crucifix and up with the bonnet! …If supplanting Jesus Christ with snow can enable my people to cozy up to Christmas, then let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

So goes this curious, hilarious work of a profligate imagination unbound.

Along the way it dashes into sub-plots of many befuddlements and allocations of adventures offered with the pedantic assurance of a mock court indictment. It is suggested, or more or less sworn to, that Philip Roth, the living author, acted as an agent for Mossad, the CIA of Israel, by spying upon “Jewish anti-Zionist elements threatening the security of Israel.” Serving counterintelligence by impersonating the impersonator? The novel is subtitled: A Confession. The preface claims that “The book is as accurate an account as I am able to give of actual occurrences that I lived through during my middle fifties and that culminated, early in 1988, in my agreeing to undertake an intelligence-gathering operation for Israel’s foreign intelligence service, the Mossad.”

A solemn affidavit? Not quite. A note to the reader at the end of the book: “This confession is false.” An operatic divertissement? Aida, the Ethiopian princess stealing war plans from her Egyptian lover for the benefit of her country. Or the false Dimitri and at last old Boris Godunov, Philip Roth, saving the state from the Diasporists and in a cloud of redemption expiring.

The talent of Philip Roth floats freely in this rampaging novel with a plot thick as starlings winging to a tree and then flying off again. It is meant perhaps as a sort of restitution offered in payment of the claim that if the author has not betrayed the Jews he has too often found them to be whacking clowns, or whacking-off clowns. He bleeds like the old progenitor he has named in the title. Since he is, as a contemporary writer, always quick to insert the latest item of the news into his running comments, perhaps we can imagine him as poor Richard Jewell, falsely accused in the bombing in Atlanta because, in police language, he fit the profile; and then at last found to be just himself, a nice fellow good to his mother.

And yet, and yet, the impostor, the devil’s advocate for the Diaspora has, with dazzling invention, composed not an ode for the hardy settlers of Israel, but an ode to the wandering Jew as a beggar and prince in Western culture, speaking and writing in all its languages.

After fame and mischief on the streets of Jerusalem, Roth, in a sort of recidivism, returns to the passions of his youth with a “hero,” Mickey Sabbath, certainly not in his first youth, but shall we say, still trying. Sabbath’s Theater, a much admired book, is seriously filthy. Portnoy’s Complaint, by comparison and to put the best face on it, is lads and lassies a-Maying. Sabbath’s Theater is mud, a slough of obscenity with some lustrous pearls of antic writing embedded in it. The first line: “Either forswear fucking others or the affair is over.” That is Drenka, a fifty-two-year-old Croatian voluptuary with ovarian cancer of which she dies, but not before thirteen years of insatiable carnality with Sabbath and more years than that with others.

Sabbath, now sixty-four, refuses to forswear, saying it would be repugnant to him to break the “sacrament of infidelity.” And that is, perhaps, why he is given the name of Sabbath, the day of worship, to suggest a sort of Black Mass of fucking. The world is out to crucify the master puppeteer of his Indecent Theater, but the aging, arthritic, disheveled lover is irresistible to all except his wife Roseanna, who spends her days in an alcoholic stupor and when at last belligerently sober, by way of AA, takes off with a lesbian and often turns her thoughts to the penis clipper, well-named Lorena Bobbitt.

Among the breathlessly accommodating are a Barnard girl; Christa, a runaway German au pair; and Rosa, a Spanish-speaking maid, “four childs,” another in her belly; and a student in a liberal arts college from which Sabbath is fired as an adjunct professor of puppet theater, owing to the discovery of a taped telephone conversation of outstanding lascivity, published in full at the bottom of the pages, a priapic academic footnote. This leads to an apologia, attributed to Sabbath, which can be attributed to the author, Philip Roth.

Not even Sabbath understood how he could lose his job at a liberal arts college for teaching a twenty-year-old to talk dirty twenty-five years after Pauline Réage, fifty-five years after Henry Miller, sixty years after D.H. Lawrence, eighty years after James Joyce, two hundred years after John Cleland, three hundred years after John Wilmot, second earl of Rochester—not to mention four hundred after Rabelais, two thousand after Ovid, and twenty-two hundred after Aristophanes.

To the challenge of white satin, spring flower epithalamia, the “realist” offers the rude, raging insistence of Nature. In Roth’s novels, the erotic pushes and thrusts where it will, even in imagination to the iconic Anne Frank and Franz Kafka. In The Ghost Writer, a young female student, refugee from Europe at the time of the Holocaust, turns up as an assistant to the esteemed writer Lonoff, living in Massachusetts, the snowscape Yankeeland. Zuckerman, young and only on the first arc of the happy curve of his talent, enters the shrine of literature as a guest in Lonoff’s house. He soon imagines the attractive assistant to be a living Anne Frank, rescued from death only to be sent in the still of the night to the bed of Lonoff, or he to her bed.

In The Professor of Desire, David Kepesh this time, rather than Nathan Zuckerman, goes on a journey to Prague, the holy city of the painfully reserved, tubercular genius, Franz Kafka. In a dream, a jeu d’esprit, Kepesh is taken to see “Kafka’s whore,” a hideous old fraudulent tourist attraction, and a foul scene follows.

Sabbath’s journey into the underworld is sex and death, the classical Manichean union. He is haunted by his mother, who was haunted by the death of his brother, Morty, shot down in the Philippines in World War II. Sabbath, at the end of his tether, or so you might put it, masturbates and pisses on the grave of the exuberant Drenka of the “uberous breasts.” He is found there by her son, a cop, whose outrage is so great he will not arrest or shoot him to death, as Sabbath wishes. Let him lie in the muck. “You desecrate my mother’s grave. You desecrate the American flag. You desecrate your own people. With your stupid fucking prick out, wearing the skullcap of your own religion!” So Sabbath is doomed to life. “He could not fucking die. How could he leave? How could he go? Everything he hated was here.”

Here in Drenka’s cemetery, in America, in the spurious romanticism of lovemaking, marriage, fidelity? Sabbath and his theater of indecent puppets like Drenka, Christa, and so on are not a happy band of buskers. There is illness, prostate affliction, ovarian cancer, madness, drunkenness, the scars of his brother’s death and his mother’s annihilating grief. Perhaps he is saying he cannot bring himself to suicide because of the life-giving force of hatred. An idea indeed. But it is not always useful to seek abstractions in fiction. When you turn to the last pages of Sabbath’s Theater not much is clear beyond the anarchic brilliance of the swarm of characters, the rush of language, the willful chaos of the inspiration.

American Pastoral: Paradise Remembered; The Fall; Paradise Lost in New Jersey, Philip Roth’s singular turf, Newark “before the negroes,” its raucous, fetid airs memorialized by his art as if they were the zephyrs in a sportsman’s sketches. Zuckerman is called to tell the story of the fate of Seymour Levov, a supreme high school athlete, called “the Swede.” His is a life that began in gladness and came to an end in a conflagration of appalling desolation. The Levov family, the marriages, the children, the business, the houses are the landscape of toil and success, an ever-upward curve horribly deflected by the America of the 1960s. The elder Levov has through his unceasing labor and shrewdness, his toughness, built a business in the manufacture of ladies gloves, the firm going by the name of Newark Maid Leatherware.

Newark Maid at the time of the novel’s action has moved to Puerto Rico, but the roots of the family go back to the old Levov grandfather who had arrived in America in the 1890s and “found work fleshing sheepskins fresh from the lime vat.” The slow, punishing development of Newark Maid by Lou Levov, the father of Swede and his brother Jerry, is the ancestral cord of blood and sweat that will be broken in subtle ways by the agreeable son, Swede, and in violent ways by the bomb-throwing murders of Swede’s daughter, Merry, a child of the 1960s.

The elder Levov was “one of those slum-reared Jewish fathers whose roughhewn, undereducated perspective goaded a whole generation of striving, college-educated Jewish sons.” Lou Levov went to work at the tannery at fourteen; “the tannery that stank of both the slaughterhouse and the chemical plant from the soaking of flesh and the cooking of flesh and the dehairing and pickling and degreasing of hides.” At the workhouse, “the temperature [rises] to a hundred and twenty degrees…with hunks of skin all over the floor, everywhere pits of grease, hills of salt, barrels of solvent—this was Lou Levov’s high school and college.” The labor, powerfully imagined and researched here, brings to mind the Lower East Side tenements and the brutal hours at the sewing machines that led in time to the garment district on Seventh Avenue.

On the domestic scene the increasing prosperity of Newark Maid gloves sends the Levov family from the streets of the lower- and middle-class Jews to “Keer Avenue…where the rich Jews lived.” They become Keer Avenue Jews, “with their finished basements, their screened-in porches, their flagstone front steps,…laying claim like audacious pioneers to the normalizing American amenities.” Swede, the athletic, tall, blond Levov, “as close to a goy as we were going to get,” survives the Marine Corps, plays baseball at Upsala College in East Orange, New Jersey, turns down a club contract offer, and joins his father’s business. And in a sort of sleepwalking way, out of natural inclination, he crossed a line or what would seem to be a line to the old inbred Levovs: he married Miss New Jersey. “Before competing at Atlantic City for the 1949 Miss America title, she had been Miss Union County, and before that Spring Queen at Upsala…. A shiksa. Dawn Dwyer. He’d done it.”

As the novel opens, the Swede is almost seventy, and he has sent a letter to the author, Zuckerman, asking for a dinner meeting. The old Levov had died at age ninety-six, and the son is struggling to write a memoir about him to be distributed to family and friends. He wants to discuss his father with Zuckerman, the famous author, and a friend from high school days. In the note he says about his father that he suffered “because of the shocks that befell his loved ones.” The shock which indeed caused the old man to keel over dead was the discovery that Seymour’s daughter, Merry, had after a somewhat fortuitous connection with young radicals in New York City fallen under the spell of violent resistance to society, the Vietnam war, rejection of family, the whole package. One early morning she planted a bomb at the post office of her town and blew up the popular town doctor who was picking up his mail. She went into hiding at the home of her speech therapist, for little Merry suffered from a stutter; in time she “connected” again and after robbery and rape and gross ill treatment took part in an “action” that killed three people in Oregon.

This is the fall, paradise lost, the dramatic center of the novel. Yes, it could have happened; young men and women better educated than Merry Levov blew up a house in Greenwich Village, killing some of their own, went underground, and later some of them, low on funds, held up a Brinks money truck, killed the black driver, and subsequently went off to jail. There are other bombings and deaths, listed in the book. So poor Seymour, the Swede, still well-meaning and now a suburbanite, must wake up one morning like the Mayor of Casterbridge and say: I am to suffer, I perceive.

The bomb-throwing plot is not altogether convincing on this particular stage. Merry must make a passage from her Audrey Hepburn scrapbook days to a loquacious, sneering radical life that has to be accepted as given, just as the introduction of a dreadful conspirator, Rita Cohen, must be accepted as a go-between in the battle between Merry and the Swede. What Rita represents is brought into question when Merry later says that she did not know her and perhaps Rita is part of Zuckerman’s dream, as his knowledge of the details of the story is explained.

The most provocative shift in the portrait of Merry, as a death-dealing 1960s revolutionary, is that she passes from radicalism to the old Indian religion of Jain, which sought to release the spirit from the bonds of the flesh. Merry adds her own self-destructive interpretations of Jain with its passivity and pacifism. She eats almost nothing out of regard for the integrity of animals and also that of plants. When found by her father she is shrunken, living in filth, wandering alone in dangerous spots of Newark with the serenity of the abandonment of self-hood. This reminds us of the cultist aspect of the American revolutionaries of the Sixties, sometimes a small band bound together by their rants, paranoia, and above all the exaggeration of their power and the foolish underestimation of the power of society. Even the militia groups of the Nineties with their guns and explosives are swollen with a cultish sense of empowerment, a poisonous edema of stockpiling, camaraderie on the rifle range—until the transition of indictment for murder turns them into whimpering, plea-bargaining, helpless victims of consequence. Little Merry Levov takes instead the spiritual life in a drastic extension, but Roth, if he must have her as a bomber, has shown imagination about the loss of revolutionary enthusiasm when the aftermath must be faced alone.

That the Levov family is to suffer, by way of Merry, a catastrophe remote in a statistical sense, undermines the interesting close calls on the road of the Swede’s American journey. The Swede has made a right turn into the highway of assimilation and this, it appears, is the true direction of the novel’s intellectual and fictional energy. First, the Swede has married the beauty queen, Dawn Dwyer, a Roman Catholic. Even though Dawn surreptitiously had Merry baptized in the faith, they are, in the words of Seymour’s brother Jerry, a bullying, big-time coronary surgeon in Florida, “Knockout couple. The two of them all smiles in their outward trip into the USA. She’s post-Catholic, he’s post-Jewish, together they’re going to go out there to Old Rimrock to raise little post-toasties.”

Old Rimrock is a posh bit of the New Jersey countryside to which Seymour takes himself and Dawn in a sort of paroxysm of open fields, great old trees enthusiasm. Old Rimrock in Wasp, Republican Morris County. His father had wanted him to settle in a modern house in the “rock-ribbed Democrat” Newstead Development, where he could live with his family among young Jewish couples. No. For the Swede it is to be a hundred acres of land, “a barn, a millpond, a millstream, the foundation remains of a gristmill that had supplied grain for Washington’s troops.” And an old stone house and a fireplace “large enough for roasting an ox, fitted out with an oven door and a crane to swing an iron kettle around over the fire.” Why shouldn’t it be his? Why shouldn’t he own it? “Out in Old Rimrock, all of America lay at their door. That was an idea he loved. Jewish resentment, Irish resentment—the hell with it.” Dawn is somewhat concerned with Protestant ill-feeling about Catholics, but for the Swede: “The Protestants are just another denomination. Maybe they were rare where she grew up—they were rare where he grew up too—but they happen not to be rare in America. Let’s face it, they are America.”

In the 1940s Jews might have felt some anxiety about their reception in a rich enclave of old-family inhabitants viewing them with condescension if not rudeness. Such would not be true today when a Jewish media billionaire would be urged to buy, if such an opportunity arose in a period of regal retrenchment, an ancient bit of land in the woods of Windsor, where he could, on an occasional weekend, tramp about over the bones of Queen Victoria. In Old Rimrock, the Levovs make the acquaintance of an architect, Bill Orcutt, from a Morris County family that has filled the local cemetery with worthies for two hundred years. As Henry James observed about Hawthorne and the town of Salem: “It is only in a country where newness and change and brevity of tenure are the common substance of life, that the fact of one’s ancestors having lived for a hundred and seventy years in a single spot would become an element of one’s morality.”

The Swede, by the time he meets Zuckerman in the New York restaurant, has been divorced from Dawn and has a new wife and children; and Dawn, brought near to suicide by the cruel biography of her daughter, has returned to life with a Swiss facelift and, in a thunderous rush of plot, made an alliance with the tombstone genealogist, Orcutt. It didn’t work out, as the saying goes, the idyll of the young couple. Jerry, the angry sawbones brother, turns Merry in to the FBI, and along the way, driven by his fraternal jealousy of his paragon brother, Swede, denounces the life they shaped for Merry. “Out there with Miss America, dumbing down and dulling out. Out there playing at being Wasps, a little Mick girl from the Elizabeth docks and a Jewboy from Weequahic High. The cows. Cow society. Colonial old America. And you thought all that façade was going to come without cost. Genteel and innocent. But that costs, too, Seymour. I would have thrown a bomb. I would become a Jain and live in Newark. That Wasp bullshit!” But Seymour in his love and grief for his daughter knows better. “It is chaos. It is chaos from start to finish.” America gone berserk.

Among the ruins of time is the city of Newark, where the Roths reared the author, Zuckerman, with his elegiac memories of interiors, “the microscopic surface of things close at hand…the minutest gradations of social position conveyed by linoleum and oilcloth, by yahrzeit candles and cooking smells, by Ronson table lighters and venetian blinds.” And outside, autumn afternoons on the football field; down the main drag to movies on a Saturday afternoon; record shops offering Glenn Miller; and at the high school reunion damaged faces which still carry the trace of teenage beauty.

When the Swede and Zuckerman meet so many years later, Newark has been the scene of the devastating riots in 1967. It is now the “car theft capital of the world”; shops are boarded up; houses, once the shrine of relentless homemakers, are now smashed and splintered orphans; gunshots split the air, causing no more wonder than the screech of big trucks backing into a parking space. Newark, long ago the little Jewish Eden of Roth’s youth.

American Pastoral is a sort of Dreiserian chronicle of the Levov family. Their painfully built fortune, even without the disgrace, might have declined owing to obsolescence, slower than a bomb, but going by the name of bankruptcy. Maids have not for some decades been in need of the finely stitched, soft leather gloves in matching colors. Gloves, except on the coldest winter days, have gone the way of the ribbon shops in the West Thirties of Manhattan, ribbons for hats that were to go on the heads of proper women whenever they left the house.

Still the saga of the Levov family is a touching creative act and in the long line of Philip Roth fiction can be rated PG, suitable for family viewing—more or less.

This Issue

June 12, 1997