Jay Parini responds thoughtfully to Roth’s PEN/Faulkner award in a blog at the Guardian.
The prizes and accolades must have become something of a bore for Roth, who prefers (one assumes) to stay holed up in his barn in Connecticut, writing and writing. On Monday it was announced in New York that Roth won the PEN/Faulkner Prize for his latest novel, Everyman. He has actually won this same award twice before, making him the first writer to win the prize three times over. One of the judges told the press: “The book haunts me. Its simplicity and brutishness, the unflinching look at life. Roth never looks away, never trivializes, never shrugs. He manages to wrestle with grief, the immensity of losing self.”
This is all true enough. But I read this latest novel with mixed feelings. I missed the elaborate scene-making of Goodbye, Columbus and so many of his other novels. I missed the poetic stillness of The Ghost Writer, a short novel as good as Goodbye, Columbus. I missed the nutty sprawling comic energy of Portnoy’s Complaint. I missed the sex, so wonderfully and weirdly overwhelming in The Professor of Desire. I even missed the wry egomania that dominates so many of his books, and the gorgeous late-blossoming rage of Sabbath’s Theater and The Human Stain. Everyman is about what we all know about, fear, try not to think about, try to engage, force to the margins, sometimes stare in the eye, mostly look away from: the big D.