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Review of Everyman by Philip Roth

Everyman Everyman by Philip Roth

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Based on a number of nearly unanimous reviews, I began this book with a few expectations.

I expected the protagonist to be a self-obsessed emotional vampire; Roth’s characters are often needy and broken, cyclically building up their lives, tearing them down, and wounding anyone foolish enough to mistake their emotional pawing for genuine love. The author met that expectation with room to spare.

But I also expected to have my heart broken. Most reviewers mention that this is a truly depressing book. It does indeed catalog the horrors of aging. You will not be spared any of the details. Illness and time do conspire to mentally and physically break down the protagonist, his friends, and his lovers. However, I didn’t feel any of the loss I felt when reading Roth’s The Dying Animal.

Here’s what I think went wrong. Roth shovels the Everyman’s life to you in great big heaps of unbalanced dirt. You learn everything there is to know about his transgressions and his pettiness. You follow every surgery he’s had the pleasure to endure from childhood to the grave. But for some reason, you’re spared all the best moments of his life. All the joy comes to you through the filter of a bitter old self-loathing man.

I’m going to do Roth the kindness of assuming Everyman was intentionally written to be so one-sided. Still, I don’t feel at all depressed — I’m indifferent. I never cared for the guy and the specifics of his life really do not apply to my own or the lives of those I love. The novel sounds one melancholy note and it’s flat.

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