Philip Roth, born in Newark, New Jersey, is the most highly praised American writer of his time, and winner of national and international awards too numerous to list. His first collection, Goodbye, Columbus (1959), a satirical treatment of Jewish suburban life, aroused both controversy and praise.
Ten years later a similar reaction greeted the notorious Portnoy’s Complaint because of its droll and explicit sexual content. A number of Roth’s 27 novels are autobiographical in nature and feature the recurrent alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman. Roth’s fiction is marked by social criticism, rampant energy, humor, and above all, inventiveness.
This recording, made early in Roth’s career, is drawn from his first novel, Letting Go (1962). Set in the 1950s, it portrays the social constraints of the period as they affect several graduate students at critical points in their lives. The scene Roth reads shows the rather diffident Paul Herz confronted by two of his ancient rooming-house neighbors who have a favor to ask. As the critic John Ciardi wrote, “Three actors with separately trained voices could not have read it better. If Roth were not so good a writer it would be the world’s duty to force him onto the stage”.