This is the startling theme of Philip Roth's wrenching new book: a wartime polio epidemic in the summer of 1944 and the effect it has on a closely knit, family-oriented Newark community and its children.
At the center of Nemesis is a vigorous, dutiful 23-year-old playground director, Bucky Cantor, a javelin thrower and weightlifter, who is devoted to his charges and disappointed with himself because his weak eyes have excluded him from serving in the war alongside his contemporaries.
Focusing on Cantor's dilemmas as polio begins to ravage his playground and on the everyday realities he faces, Roth leads us through every inch of the emotions such a pestilence can breed: the fear, the panic, anger, bewilderment, suffering, and pain. Moving between the smoldering, malodorous streets of besieged Newark and Indian Hill, a pristine childrens summer camp high in the Poconos whose "mountain air was purified of all contaminants", Roth depicts a decent, energetic man with the best intentions struggling in his own private war against the epidemic. Roth is tenderly exact at every point about Cantors passage into personal disaster, and no less exact about the condition of childhood.
Through this story runs the dark questions that haunt all four of Roths late short novels, Everyman, Indignation, The Humbling, and now Nemesis: What kind of accidental choices fatally shape a life? How does the individual withstand the onslaught of circumstance?
©2010 Philip Roth (P)2010 Audible, Inc.
"Nemesis stands out for its warmth. It is suffused with precise and painful tenderness…. The architecture of Roth's sentences is almost invisibly elegant; not only doesn't one notice the art, one barely notices the sentence, registering instead pure function: meaning, rhythm, intent." (The New York Times Book Review)
"The fourth in the great and undiminished Roth's recent cycle of short novels.... [A]s exceptional as those novels are, this latest in the series far exceeds its predecessors in both emotion and intellect." (Booklist)
"Having the youthful-sounding Dennis Boutsikaris narrate a book written by an older man is an interesting production choice. Philip Roth wrestles with some of the more harrowing themes of aging in his recent work. The story is told from the perspective of a 23-year-old man who is weathering a polio epidemic in 1943. But it is clearly coming from the wisdom and perspective of one of the elders in American letters. This disparity serves the audio production well. Boutsikaris lends a credibility to the novel’s observations and to their source, strengthening the protagonist’s 'voice' while losing none of the wisdom gleaned from the author’s having been there, long ago." (AudioFile)
I am finding these later Philip Roth novels too full of men and manly activities, manly thoughts. As Roth's elegant, luxuriant prose rambles on and on about guy stuff, the reader - at least this reader - becomes almost annoyed. It's enough already! As a lover of the English language and a logophile, and especially as a Philip Roth fan, I just hate to see this happen. He sounds like nothing more or less than the loquacious old uncle, loving to hear himself talk, at a holiday dinner and I want to be excused from the table.
Add to that, these two characters are not interesting in themselves, only interesting because of their disease. And Roth keeps on using the word "crippled", in accordance, I assume, with the language of the day. But it's still a cringe-worthy word.
I also had difficulty figuring out who was talking - the narrator or the main character. The novel is told by an acquaintance of Bucky Cantor, not by the protagionist, Cantor, and the confusion of the two was not resolved well.
I will say this in favor of the narrator. He is the voice of Philip Roth, and I enjoyed listening to his accent-free, gimmick- and drama-free reading.
I want Philip Roth to go back to writing novels like The Human Stain, full of conflict and relationship ambiguity, instead of this manly stuff.
I enjoy this great book as usual Philip Roth. The narration by Denis Boutsikaris is great . I'd like to listen more book by this suitor and read by Denis.
Moving further from work extended my daily commute... thank God for Audible.
Blahblahblah for the first two-thirds — the entire beginning part of this book felt like an amateur piece of pseudo-journalistic historical biography with no theme and nothing important to say. NPR’s Heller McAlpin reckons Nemesis has an “odd secondhand quality” and I couldn’t say it better.
But then — thank God — something changes. For those who’ve read the book, the turning point I’m referring to may be different to your own, but I thought things got interesting when Roth gave Bucky the impossible choice to either stay in the relative luxury and safe-haven of the Poconos summer camp [with his horny, nubile fiancé noless] or return to the sweltering, disease-ridden Newark [with its terrified kids and heartbroken parents].
At this point I was immediately reminded of the confronting themes of Ash Barker’s “Sub-merge: Living Deep in a Shallow World”. I’m talking less about the God of Sub-merge, and more of its themes: having a personal call to be countercultural; gaining our lives by losing them; taking up a “socially downward journey" among the urban poor.
Of course, this moment is just a springboard. The last third of the book explores some even more interesting themes of control, choices, community, commitment, betrayal, loss, theology and — in my opinion, most compellingly — deciding which of the burdens from our past we choose to yoke ourselves to and which we choose to cast aside.
It is this shift in Roth’s narrative that eventually saves Nemesis from itself, gives it something important to do and makes it a worthwhile listen.
Among America's aging literary royalty, Philip Roth seems to be the most reliable at delivering great stories. Unlike - say - John Irving, Roth is able to parse his world and tell one tightly focused narrative full of characters that are likable - a seemingly small trick but one that makes all the difference in a reader's or listener's enjoyment of the story. In this respect Roth has taken over for Updike.
This isn't a happy story, but it is not full of unhappy people trudging along to the end. Instead, Nemesis paints a picture of how - even in the worst of circumstances where disease and war are the new normal - people deal with life with dignity and bravery.
Typical Philip Roth...all the hand ringing and self questioning of the hero...who is truly a super star. The angst we all experience...on steroids. Interesting plot. Great job of capturing the era. Interesting and entertaining listen.
A thoughtful story of one man's journey through adversity and his internal struggle to make sense of it all. I learned something I had little knowledge of, as well...the polio epidemic.
This story was gripping and the ???villain??? here was a devastating disease that pretty much wiped a community and left others paralyzed, figuratively and literally speaking. Philip Roth???s writing can be ???precious??? at times, and his recurring character, Nathan Zuckerman, is pretty unlikeable; that being said, this novel did have all the elements (intrigue and a tragic and relatable main character) and was pretty enjoyable.
Dennis Boutsikaris is the perfect narrator. He brings the gravitas and the depth needed and his performance is just as riveting as the story. He is Philip Roth's voice.
This book was very well read by Dennis Boutsikaris. As I have worked to help eradicate polio in India, the story brought home to me the devastation that a preventable disease can bring to a community. I know many survivors of Polio, who now in their declining years are suffering from the effects of the painful and crippling disease.
This is atypical of most of Philip Roth's work. It goes straight to the emotions with its simple story of a fine, promising young man and his run-in with fate or, perhaps, an evil, uncaring Supreme Being. Dennis Boutsikaris does such a magnificent job of reading this that I just cannot image anyone else who could touch him. Bravo.
Roth taps into the period of the 40's and this tragedy so well. A well crafted story from start to finish.
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