Philip Roth Just Wants you to Read the Damn Book

Philip Roth is my favorite author. In this feature he says he doesn’t read fiction anymore. And he discusses writing about events twenty years after they happen. His most recent novel Nemesis, is about a polio epidemic in 1944:

It is such a potent metaphor for attack on the home front, especially during wartime, that it evokes American Pastoral’s human terrorist, the adored daughter of a high-achieving family turned murderous bomb-throwing war protester. But Roth is disinclined to talk in terms of metaphor. In a New Yorker interview, he indicated that allegory was a form he disliked and, during our conversation, he more than once says of a work we are discussing: “Well, it’s about what it’s about.”

For a writer whose work has always played dark games with truth and illusion, with alter-egos and their doubles, with protagonists and narrators who both are and aren’t their author, with phoney confessions, fake biography, false history, with the laying of deceptive trails through the paths of narrative, this is a pretty clear way of saying: “Just read the books.”

My writing mentor says that a lot too. Just read it. It is what it is, kind of thing. It’s so refreshing. I think high-brow academia makes us paranoid and guilts us into always looking for the allegory. Like Freud said, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

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