Philip Roth's twenty-seventh book takes its title from an anonymous fifteenth-century English allegorical play whose drama centres on the summoning of the living to death and whose hero, Everyman, is intended to be the personification of mankind. The fate of Roth's Everyman is traced from his first shocking confrontation with death on the idyllic beaches of his childhood summers and during his hospitalisation as a nine-year-old surgical patient through the crises of health that come close to killing him as a vigorous adult, ...
Philip Roth's twenty-seventh book takes its title from an anonymous fifteenth-century English allegorical play whose drama centres on the summoning of the living to death and whose hero, Everyman, is intended to be the personification of mankind. The fate of Roth's Everyman is traced from his first shocking confrontation with death on the idyllic beaches of his childhood summers and during his hospitalisation as a nine-year-old surgical patient through the crises of health that come close to killing him as a vigorous adult, and into his old age, when he is undone by the death and deterioration of his contemporaries and relentlessly stalked by his own menacing physical woes. A successful commercial advertising artist with a New York ad agency, he is the father of two sons who despise him and a daughter who adores him, the beloved brother of a good man whose physical well-being comes to arouse his bitter envy, and the lonely ex-husband of three very different women with whom he's made a mess of marriage. "Everyman" is a painful human story of the regret and loss and stoicism of a man who becomes what he does not want to be. The terrain of this savagely sad short novel is the human body, and its subject is the common experience that terrifies us all.
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A novel on death and growing old, Philip Roth's novel "Everyman" (2006) can be understood as celebrating life. The novel takes its title from a 15th century play with the theme that everyone who lives must die. "Everyman" is also the name of the small jewelry store that the father of the nameless protagonist of the book operates in Elizabeth, New Jersey, for over 40 years beginning in 1933. The store was so named to give it an appeal to all prospective customers in the town regardless of their nationality, religion, or race. Roth's protagonist faces the inevitable human condition, but Roth renders his character with great particularity.
The story begins at the end at the funeral of the main character at the age of 71. The funeral takes place in an old, poorly maintained Jewish cemetery. Only a small number of mourners are in attendance: the deceased's middle-aged daughter Nancy, the second of his three ex-wives, Phoebe, his two estranged sons from his first marriage, his older, highly successful brother Howie, a former nurse and mistress, Maureen, and friends. The funeral becomes the basis for reflection on the life of the deceased, on mortality, and on human fallibility.
The deceased and his brother Howie were the two sons of a small jewelry store owner and his wife. Both sons learned the value of hard work and of what the father termed "reliability." Outgoing and gifted and with a healthy physical constitution, Howie became an investment banker with a stable marriage. His younger brother was much more sickly and introverted. With dreams of becoming an artist, he became the obedient son and pursued a successful career in advertising.
The "Everyman" hero had three wives and as many divorces. He prided himself on his reliability and on his mundanness, but he could not resist his sexual appetites. Of the three ex-wives, the second, Phoebe, was a woman he should have treasured. When the narrator loses her due to philandering, he condemns himself to a lonely and bitter old age. The protagonist suffers from severe heart conditions which require repeated and painful surgeries that Roth describes in detail.
After the opening scene, the book moves back and forth in time from the protagonist's childhood through his marriages, career, and retirement, and the deaths of his mother and father. The story is not told chronologically but rather in a way which captures the protagonist's inner life. Roth provides a great deal of the protagonist's thoughts and reflections. Although the book is short, many of its scenes are extended dialogues between the protagonist and another person which heighten the intensity of the book by the development of detail. For example, Roth portrays the long scene after the death of the protagonist's mother when his marriage to Phoebe comes to an end as a result of his cheating and lying. Near the end of the book, there is a long discussion about grave digging and death in the old Jewish cemetery between the protagonist and the elderly gravedigger who had buried the hero's parents and will shortly bury him. There is a Hamlet-like quality to the scene.
In reading this book, I thought of Buddhism and its Four Noble Truths beginning with the truth of suffering and working to the path of ending suffering. But that is not Roth's way in the book. Showing the end of a flawed life, Roth's novel is dark but suggests that life is to be lived and treasured. The protagonist's understanding of life is given in a small motto that he repeats frequently to his faithful daughter, Nancy: "There's no remaking reality. Just take it as it comes. Hold your ground and take it as it comes."
Late in the book, meditating at his parents' graves, the protagonist finds some other advice. Telling his deceased mother that he is 71, he imagines her voice: "Good. You lived." And he imagines his father saying: "Look back and atone for what you can atone for, and make the best of what you have left." (p. 171) Both these internalized comments qualify substantially the protagonist's earlier stated outlook towards life.
"Everyman" is a serious, thoughtful work of Roth's own old age. It is valuable to revist this book following Roth's (1933 -- May 22, 2018) own death I read this novel in my early 60s just beginning retirement, and took the book personally. The book encouraged me to think about the anguish and inevitabililty of death in the process of cherishing life.
Aug 31, 2014
A hearty read
If you are a hypochondriac and have a heart condition, this is definitely not the book for you. However, putting that aside this is a commentary on family life gone wrong, and well worth the effort of reading it.
Jul 26, 2007
Average book about man with health challenges ...o.k., so he does explain his feelings a bit better than most men would re: disabilities and recoveries from surgeries and modifying lifestyle and overcoming some challenges ( no sex0 and the end is sad but no dogears or underlines here.
Mar 22, 2007
This is Philip Roth at his best. After reading Patrimony, I expected no less. Everyman is Philip Roth's personal examination of a life. It is about the unexpected end of the journey and how one man deals with it. We too will relive our best and brightest moments; struggle with the pain of losing loved ones through indifference, divorce, or sheer laziness; and quietly attempt to reconcile our past with our present. Along the way, we will laugh, cry, and accept that we are human. One of our greatest literary minds challenging his own perceptions and misconceptions at a point in life we all must face. These challenges remain long after the reading is finished.
Mar 16, 2007
Real life reveiled.
This is a well told look at real life from the perspective of an elderly individual. You will experience laughter, awe, sadness, and hope. It is an inside look that brings with it understanding that would not be obtained otherwise.
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