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3.9 out of 5 stars
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3.9 out of 5 stars
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on 16 May 2006
Every new Roth work prompts the same questions: how can he possibly maintain the standard which has marked the period dubbed by the Sunday Times his "late flowering"? And, has it continued?

Whatever may be the answer to the first question, those privileged enough to read "Everyman" will have no trouble answering the second in the affirmative. This prodigious literary heavyweight remains on fire, and now he uses the power of his prose to probe the undeniability of death, and, again, proves himself capable of taking the breath away with the sheer reach of his observations, most of which are voiced by his un-named, dying hero.

In the person of his latest fictional creation those returning to Roth will find familiar themes: New Jersey upbringing; an uncomplicated and revered older brother; some (porno)graphic scenes of past sexual adventures and, most strikingly, in the evocation of the lore of the family jewellery business, there is a shade of the colour which the Levov glove factory so memorably gifted "American Pastoral".

It is difficult to complete this triumphant novella and then to maintain quite the same attitude towards the normal daily chores of going to work, raising a family and, well, living, such are the insights offered. In earlier works, his reporting of the marital and extra-marital state and the pains and prizes of parenthood has been so unerring we cannot doubt the truth of those insights much as we might want to try.

This is Roth's "Seize the Day", only better. We know what that novella ushered in for Bellow. Let's hope the same follows soon for Roth
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A popular exercise among self-help gurus is to ask their students to imagine themselves attending their own funeral. What would the student like to be said then? Who should attend?

Everyman reminded me of that insightful thought experiment.

Everyman opens at our narrator's funeral. There are some former colleagues from his advertising career, neighbors from the retirement village where he had been living, his daughter, two sons from a first marriage, his older brother and sister-in-law, his second wife (and his daughter's mother) and a former private duty nurse from a prior illness. You'll read his daughter's words which tell you the family's history.

Then, the narrator takes over to relate his life. The primary themes are family connection, taking on adult responsibilities, physical attraction to the opposite sex, life mistakes, physical decline and passing beyond this life. The perspective is that of an elderly man in not very good health, who objects to his health challenges.

The book is remarkably spare for a Philip Roth novel. I liked the contrast to his more elaborate works. This book is about the monologue in one's own head, and you don't need a lot of other material to capture that mind-set. A few incidents, scattered here and there, simply serve to elaborate on the narrator's character and perspective.

But the book transcends its narrator's life to touch on the important life passages and challenges we all have or will face. If you are like me, you'll find yourself re-examining your own life and plans.

As the book jacket points out, the title is intended to refer to an anonymously written fifteenth-century allegorical play themed to the process of summoning the living to death. You can add to your enjoyment of Roth's work if you read (or re-read) that play.

The story also captures the sense of loneliness that many feel who lack the comfort of daily contact with their families and strong religious beliefs about the meaning of life.

To draw you a word picture of this book, Everyman reminded me of an elaborate tombstone that contains numerous references to the deceased . . . from which our imaginations fill in the gaps.
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on 5 July 2006
It amazes me how an irritable old so and so like Roth can write another novel about an ageing, death obsessed has-been, full of sex, failure and New Jersey, that is again a wonderful eulogy to the power of the human spirit. It is, like the original medieval "Everyman", a poem of the highest quality, "a treatise of how the father of heaven, sends death to summon every creature to come and give account of their lives in this world...in the manner of a moral play". Written by the unbelieving minstrel of modern America, it is no less a masterpiece.

Here you will find echoes of "I married a Communist" - the stars as reminders of human mortality, and "American Pastoral" - the collosal power of empathy with human fallibility (indeed its celebration). But the tone is gentler and less angry. The author seems to be more at peace with himself, as if he too has trodden the path of the medieval play and lost those friends who were fickle and worldly too. This is closely structured novel, contrasting with the epic quality of much of Roth's greatest work. It is simple, lyrical, and just plain takes your breath away.

You see Roth can make you cry. He can make big happy sentimental tears roll down your face. And what is wrong with sentiment? Is that not what keeps us alive? The graveyard scene at the end of the play is one of the finest pieces of writing I have ever read. The whole book is like holding a skull in one's hand, and as in "Hamlet", you feel the loss of Yorrick.

Often flying into Newark I have surveyed the houses below, looking for a glimpse of Roth's world. Now it draws me even closer, due to the power of Roth's words. I want to taste the air of that wonderful cemetery. I want to be possess what Roth possesses. "He couldn't go. The tenderness was out of control. As was the longing for everyone to be living. And to have it all over again." And at the end, the hero meets the same fate as in the old play, liberated from that which is transient, with just that human goodness pumping so hard in his failing heart.

Sorry to wax so lyrical, but that is how Roth gets you. He just raises your sights.
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on 1 October 2006
Makes one think twice about "live for the now!". Shows how a few lightly taken decisions can impact a life's outcome profoundly. The prose lets one see into introspection, without ever coming across as preaching but allowing you to get a real flavour of the leading character's deep regret for some of his actions. Has led me to become a real fan, now read 3 other Roth books and getting more.
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on 2 October 2006
This is another contribution to the wonderful late Roth canon. It is a short novel which is extremely bleak as an old and ailing man (the novel begins with his funeral following surgery) reviews his life and relationships. He has experienced the failed relationships and the (often related)power of the male sexual impulse which are key focuses of Roth's work. A reviewer of the new Dylan album compared the later preoccupations of the singer with those of Roth. Certainly both engage with death and failed relationships but at least Dylan offers the hope of an afterlife which is not available to Roth's central character here. This is a wonderfully written novel ("Old age is not a battle but a massacre.")but not to be read if you or a loved one are about to experience surgery!
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on 27 November 2006
I have a love hate relationship with Philip Roth ever since I read his ex-wife Claire Bloom's description of their turbulent eighteen year relationship. He is a brilliant writer who has the ability to scare the wits out of you. He touches on a subject close to all of us. Growing older with aging or dying parents and children who have formed their opinions of us long ago. A book of nightmares to be sure but fabulous nevertheless. True poetry each and every word. Sadly this book though enormously disturbing, is way too short. Prose that permeates every brain cell.

I also loved these other books by Philip Roth: The Plot Against America & Patrimony.
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on 15 August 2007
I don't like all of Roths work. Operation Shylock and The Counterlife for example are too unremitting and repetitive in their searing examination of Jewish identity. However I am a big fan of most of his other works of which I've read about 10.

This book garners previously familiar themes with Death lurking in the background like a sinister new character . Reminded me of The Anatomy lesson with a terminal condition in place of a benign one.

It is economically told, juxtaposing humour and pathos and rips along with familiar Roth energy and honesty.

The review below prompted this response as I disagree 100% with its conclusions
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Every novel by Philip Roth of course deserves a very high rating for the compelling vigour of his writing, and this book is no exception. I have little to add to the excellent reviews that other people have already posted on Amazon about a dying man whose reflections about the past concern themselves with the times he has been in hospital, with his body which has increasingly let him down, with the ailments of his parents and of his contemporaries, and with the mess he has made of most of his personal relationships. All this is most graphically described, and some if it is not for the squeamish.

My only criticism - but it is a strong one - is of the title. Whilst of course every man will be confronted at the end with his mortality and while most will give that subject some, or indeed much thought, not every man reaches death after many years of ill health (after all, the character's elder brother Howie had enjoyed robust good health all his life); not every man mourns in his old age the passing of his zest for life, loses his curiosity and is bored by the company of his contemporaries; not every man messes up his life, is quite such a slave to his sexual drives, goes through three divorces and has sons who hate him (again Howie has a strong marriage and loving sons), and has to battle with the guilt for it. So this powerfully sad and moving book is excellent about a typically Rothian character, and there are many of them about; but you cannot extrapolate from them to Everyman.
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on 20 August 2007
In this short, intense novel Roth introduces us to his unique interpretation of the medieval morality play with the same name. Instead of having "everyman" being led by Death to confront God's judgement, Roth's nameless protagonist addresses the reader from his freshly dug grave. Is he asking for acceptance for the bad that outweighed the good or merely indulging in justifying his life and actions?

We meet "him" as the subject during the brief funeral ceremony attended by a handful of "friends" and family. His sons stand aside, clearly not overly affected by his death. The reader gets a sketch of the man from his brother's eulogy and the words of his ex-wife and daughter. All three speak of a long-ago past, his youthful self as a brother in their beloved parents' house, of a happy time with his wife or as a young father. That was when life was innocent and wholesome - before death. The mourners have hardly turned away when the story shifts to the recounting the protagonist's life.

While Roth maintains a certain distance by writing in the third person, the following retrospective is very intimate and personal to his character. His meandering mind follows the different stages of his life, lingering with specifics and dialogs on some episodes, while brushing aside others that are deemed less important. In life, Roth's Everyman was certainly not your ordinary guy from down the street: he was a successful advertising director, wealthy and accepted by his peers. Abandoning his Jewish faith early on, he concentrated on the materialistic and hedonistic side of life. His three ex-wives were left primarily over his desire for sexual pursuits. Starting in middle age, heart problems became a concern and death lingered in the background. Still, thanks to modern medicine and his finances, he could afford the increasingly necessary heart procedures that brought him into his seventies. As he reflects on his deteriorating body, his unfulfilling leisure in retirement, his nostalgia for the safety and harmony of his parents' life almost overwhelms him as does his admiration for the man he once was. "The force that was mine! ...Once upon a time I was a full human being." The only person standing by him with care and loving in his old age is his daughter. Why is not clear, given that she suffered as much from the departure of her father as the sons did. They never forgave him for abandoning their mother and their reaction is met on his side by hatred and disrespect.

Roth has created a brilliant portrait of a rather unpleasant character. Does Everyman have much in common with the author? This was my first exposure to his themes and preoccupations. Roth's language economy is exquisite and skill in creating atmosphere and characters is at its best. The novel reads extremely well, despite some of the misgivings one might have with the description of "Everyman". [Friederike Knabe]
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on 1 October 2014
Utterly brilliant. Read Roth many years ago - The Human Stain -and struggled. Bought this after hearing it raved about on the BBC's "Good Read" programme and how pleased I am that I did. It is short but don't let that put you off or feel you are being shortchanged. This is a modern morality tale, a reflection on ageing, family and a life of triumphs and regrets. Common emotions that we all have or will have as the years roll on. The writing is exquisite and evocative. A very real, a very human book. If this book was Scotch it would be the finest of single malts!.
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