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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