Oyster Boy Review 13  
  Summer 2001
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» Levee 67


'The Dying Animal' by Philip Roth

Kevin McGowin

Am I missing something, or is this guy just the faux-metafictional failed erotic purveyor of the Updike crowd? I mean, I tried. After somebody gave me his book ($23, which seems to be the going rate for hardback fiction this year) and I couldn't get through it. Just like I couldn't get through The Ghost Writer literally last week! Or The Great American Novel two years ago. Or American Pastoral.

I got through Portnoy's Complaint about a million years ago, and for time-out-of-mind Roth has been living in Manhattan, writing it over, and over, and over again. Not to say it's that good a book, either. It's not.

And The Dying Animal is even worse, what with the usual themes of young men in their early 20s who are writers, usually in Manhattan, who have father complexes and are out to score some pseudo-intellectial nookie, and are having a hard time because they're REALLY Philip Roth, and he's boring. And more pretentious than Norman Mailer. An example from the current book:

The seat next to the most beautiful girl in the world—and it's empty. So you take it. But now isn't then, and it'll never be calm. It'll never be peaceful. I was worried about her walking around in that blouse. Peel off her jacket, and there is the blouse. Peel off the blouse, and there is perfection. A young man will find her and take her away. And from me, who fired up her senses, who gave her her stature, who was the catalyst to her emancipation and prepared her for him.

Does that make you want to go out and buy and actually READ this thing? "Peel off the blouse, and there is perfection. A young man will find her and take her away."

Well, I would do the honors, pal, did she look like the cover, which is by Modigliani, who is All the Rage in New York these days, and yesterday too, I think, when the publisher wanted to suggest that in the pages of this novel elderly professors will find their way to muted and furtive gratification, one way or another.

But she doesn't. Because Philip Roth couldn't draw a rounded female character to save his ass. All you get is the work of a rich, boring pompadour, for whom contrived artifice passes for emotion—and trite, impotent emotion at that.