Everything is over for Simon Axler, the protagonist of Philip Roth's startling new book. One of the leading American stage actors of his generation, now in his sixties, he has lost his magic, his talent and his assurance. His Falstaff and Peer Gynt and Vanya, all his great roles, 'are melted into air, into thin air'. When he goes on stage he feels ...
Everything is over for Simon Axler, the protagonist of Philip Roth's startling new book. One of the leading American stage actors of his generation, now in his sixties, he has lost his magic, his talent and his assurance. His Falstaff and Peer Gynt and Vanya, all his great roles, 'are melted into air, into thin air'. When he goes on stage he feels like a lunatic and looks like an idiot. His confidence in his powers has drained away; he imagines people laughing at him; he can no longer pretend to be someone else. 'Something fundamental has vanished'. His wife has gone, his audience has left him, his agent can't persuade him to make a comeback. Into this shattering account of inexplicable and terrifying self-evacuation bursts a counterplot of unusual erotic desire, a consolation for the bereft life so risky and aberrant that it points not towards comfort and gratification but to a yet darker and more shocking end. In this long day's journey into night, told with Roth's inimitable urgency, bravura and gravity, all the ways that we persuade ourselves of our solidity, all our life's performances - talent, love, sex, hope, energy, reputation - are stripped off. Following the dark meditations on mortality and endings in "Everyman" and "Exit Ghost", and the bitterly ironic retrospect on youth and chance in "Indignation", Roth has written another in his haunting group of late novels. "The Humbling" is Roth's thirtieth book.
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Publishers Weekly, 2009-08-10 A deteriorating and increasingly irrelevant actor finds the possibility of renewal in a younger woman in Roth's tight Chekhovian tragedy. At 65, Simon Axler, a formerly celebrated stage actor, is undergoing a crisis: he can no longer act, his wife leaves him and, suicidal, he checks himself into a psych ward. Then he retires to his upstate New York farm to wait for... something, which arrives in the form of Pegeen, daughter of some old theater friends who is now a "lithe, full-breasted woman of forty, though with something of a child still in her smile." A Rothian affair ensues, despite (or perhaps because of) their age difference and Pegeen's lesbian past. Axler overlooks all the signs that should warn him not to trust too much in the affair and instead tries out more and more sexual turns with Pegeen (spanking, strap-ons, role play), until one night they pick up a drunk local for a three-way that might prove to be soul-crushing. Roth observes much (about age, success and the sexual credit lovers hold one with another) in little space, and the svelte narrative amounts to an unsparing confrontation of self. (Nov.) Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.
Publishers Weekly, 2009-12-21 Roth's latest reflection on sex, aging, and death switches from Roth stand-in Nathan Zuckerman to fading actor Simon Axler. Convinced his talents are ebbing away, Simon embarks on an ill-fated romance with a young lesbian by way of what? Consolation? Distraction? Masochism? The usually reliable Dick Hill falters, however, flattening Roth's characters and smothering some of the novel's metaphysical notes. He is particularly artless with Roth's female characters, reducing them to two-dimensional harpies or simps. Hill might have been better off skipping the falsetto tones and concentrating on mastering the subtleties of the story. A Houghton Mifflin Harcourt hardcover (Reviews, Aug. 10). (Nov.) Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.
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