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3.0 out of 5 starsGhost Writer... Portrait, Zuckerman Unbound... Ulysses?
Reviewed in the United States on August 2, 2019
Curious enough, it seems to me that something connects "Gold Rush" by Death Cab for Cutie and this book, particularly in this part of the song: "I've ascribed these monuments/A false sense of permanence/I've placed faith in geography/To hold you in my memory." This is, in essence, Chapter 4 and the end of Zuckerman Unbound. If The Ghost Writer now seems to me as Roth's response to James Joyce's "The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man", Zuckerman Unbound is his (timid and modest) attempt to respond to "Ulysses". There are many references to Joyce's work here (the funerals, Stephen Dedalus' complicated relationship with his mother, the short time lapse from beginning to end), but there is also Tolstoy. Both seem to have been clearly in Roth's mind when he wrote this book. Funny was that the first pages of "Zuckerman Unbound" initially sounded to me like Roth's response to John Updike's "Rabbit Is Rich", published in the same year 1981 (and Updike is also nominally cited here as a direct "competitor" or "peer" of Zuckerman's). All these references, however interesting, sounded as if Roth sort of was losing stamina (especially as when he decides to quote Kierkegaard!), a creativity gap. There is also a fantastic character (Alvin Pepler, based on Herbie Stempel) who is sort of wasted in the book after a lot of investment in building him up in the first chapters, which was a big shame! Those small flaws, imho, make "Zuckerman Unbound" a comparatively smaller book in Roth's prodigious production (as Rabbit is Rich is also smaller in the Rabbit tetralogy, imho as well). Still, it is a very good, enjoyable book, worth reading. I just wonder: if "The Ghost Writer" is "Portrait" and "Zuckerman Unbound", "Ulysses", is "The Anatomy Lesson" Roth's response to "Finnegan's Wake"???
You can’t go wrong with Philip Roth. His writing is always authentic and engaging, if a little preoccupied with sex. In Zuckerman Unbound, he has some fun with the relationship of author Zuckerman to his fictional protagonist, Carnovsky, mirroring Roth’s relationship to his own protagonists. Other reviewers have commented on this, including fictional ones in the book.
Not to be overlooked is Roth’s handy guide for aspiring writers. If you’re planning to be a writer, you might want to study Zuckerman and work habits. He has read fifty yards of books, and he tells us his favorites. One is Thomas Wolfe, obviously relevant to the censure over Carnovsky.
Hints about Zuckerman’s output are sprinkled throughout the trilogy. He writes for six hours a day, producing three or four pages. This is in the morning, when his energy is fresh. He prefers sex at “her place,” because it’s easier to disengage and get back to his desk. After writing, he takes a long walk and then reads for another three hours.
I recommend all three books but, if you read only one, Zuckerman Unbound (the second one) is best. It starts with Carnovsky, and it has a proper dramatic ending. The Ghost Writer is more of a prologue. If you tire of the Jewish guilt theme, try American Pastoral instead. As the title suggests, it is more mainstream, with Zuckerman narrating someone else’s life.
4.0 out of 5 stars1969 New York City is the backdrop for this fascinating glimpse of an author running from his creation without a place to stop.
Reviewed in the United States on October 2, 2015
Philip Roth’s ZUCKERMAN UNBOUND is the second Zuckerman novel, published in 1981, that followed the novel THE GHOST WRITER. There are quite a few parallels between Roth and Zuckerman. The novel opens with Zuckerman publishing a literary sensation called CARNOVSKY, which was a coming-of-age novel full of sex and Jewishness, similar to Roth’s PORTNOY’S COMPLAINT, a novel that was hinted at in THE GHOST WRITER and the cause of tension between Zuckerman and his father, who felt the work gave ammunition to anti-Semitics who would see Jewish stereotypes in the work. In UNBOUND we see Zuckerman’s uncomfortable run-ins with fans that see too much in his novel, including one Alvin Pepler who seems directly based on Herb Stempel from the 1950s quiz show scandals. 1969 New York City is the backdrop for this fascinating glimpse of an author running from his creation without a place to stop.
ZUCHERMAN UNBOUND portrays the burden of the novelist whose response to every experience is to refashion and exploit it for the purpose of fashioning stories. As a result the novelist's ability to interrelate with others becomes restrained and distorted. Rarely does the reader in American literature discover such a pessimistic vision of the consequences of forging a way of life that is grounded in imagining fiction. An excellent read.
3.0 out of 5 starsToo self-absorbed for my taste....
Reviewed in the United States on March 29, 2014
Very well written. Too solipsistic for my taste. He focuses on how the world perceives him without taking sufficient responsibility for what the role that he plays in he response he gets and the outcomes in his life. Again, good writing but not my favorite book of Roth's. Probably depends on your phase of life, persepective...but that is what makes it interesting, huh?
4.0 out of 5 starsSharply Satirical And Subtly Moving
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on March 4, 2014
This 1981 short novel (220 pages) sees author Philip Roth’s alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman, emerge as a 30-something budding 'literary celebrity’, having just published a 'controversial’ (perhaps) semi-autobiographical novel (think Portnoy’s Complaint) and what follows is an, at times, hilarious satire on the nature and debilitating effects of fame.
Here, Roth sets up two main narrative strands – the first in which he exposes Zuckerman’s recently acquired celebrity status and its, by turns, position of conferred 'privilege’ and effect of social alienation (the passages during which the increasingly paranoid Zuckerman is repeatedly confronted by 'fan’ and 'failed quiz show child star’, Alvin Pepler are particularly engaging and funny) and second in which Nathan reflects upon his past family life and the possible (guilt-inducing) effects of his new-found status (and work) on his now dying father. I found that Roth’s novel worked best as a sharp satire on the nature of fame, although he has also conjured up a brilliantly poignant conclusion to his tale as Zuckerman returns (in an armed chauffeur-driven limousine) to the Newark neighbourhood of his childhood upbringing.
Whilst, for me, Zuckerman Unbound doesn’t have quite the deep character development of novels like American Pastoral or The Human Stain, or indeed quite the level of caustic satire to be found in Portnoy’s Complaint or Sabbath’s Theatre, it is nevertheless a deceptively powerful piece of writing.
How Alvin Pepler would have loved Amazon for the opportunities it gave him to post reviews (probably in dozens of different names) of Zuckerman's novel Carnovsky. He would have been able to call him the Proust of Newark and get away with it. OK, this won't make much sense to anyone who hasn't read this comic masterpiece, but Zuckerman Unbound is great place to start if you want to find out why Roth is one of the world's greatest living writers. This short, accessible novel has everything: humour, uncompromising truth and humanity. Now I really do sound like Pepler...
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on January 11, 2013
As always, Philip Roth's writing is a pleasure to read. However, I prefer those books where he actually tells a story, with a beginning and an end top it, while in this book, Roth is just revisiting the present and past life of Zuckerman. He does it quite well, obviously, with the right amount of criticism, satire and moral dilemmas, but I still miss a good plot...