Philip Roth, a colossus of American fiction whose novels and stories like “Goodbye, Columbus”, “The Complaint of Portnoy”, “The Human Stain” and “American Pastoral” have chronicled the existential and sexual anxiety of American Jewish man in the second half of the 20th century died Tuesday evening at the age of 85.
Roth’s literary agent Andrew Wylie told NBC News he died of congestive heart failure.
Roth was one of the most honored figures in American literature, having won two National Book Awards, three PEN / Faulkner Awards and a Pulitzer Prize (for “American Pastoral”).
Roth traded literary fame for mass fame in 1969, when he published “The Complaint of Portnoy”, a download supported by his narrator, Alexander Portnoy, to his psychoanalyst.
In a 2014 New York Times essay, Roth wrote that 45 years later he was “shocked that I could have been so reckless, glad I was so reckless.”
“I certainly did not understand at work that I should never again free myself from this psychoanalytic patient whom I called Alexander Portnoy,” he writes.
He describes his objective as follows:
“Impatient for the virtues of logical progression, I wanted to give up the orderly and coherent development of an imagined world and move forward in a jumble, in a frenzy, as the classic analytical patient ideally proceeds in the throes of associative freedom.
“I have portrayed a man who is the custodian of all unacceptable thoughts, a 33 year old man possessed by dangerous feelings, unpleasant opinions, savage grievances, sinister feelings and, of course, a man stalked by presence relentless lust. In short, I wrote about the quotient of the non-socialized which is ingrained in almost everyone and tackled by everyone with varying degrees of success. “
Roth was born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, the second child of first-generation American Jews from the historic Eastern European region of Galicia, or what is now Poland and Ukraine.
He got started by publishing “Goodbye, Columbus and Five Short Stories,” his first book, in 1960. He won the National Book Award, and for the rest of his life much of his literature touched on front the thorny issues. of Jewish status and identity in American culture in the context of the turbulent 1960s and 1970s.
In a style that can be compared to the darker existential films of Woody Allen, his works were often funny, but they weren’t comedies, except for the occasional satire like “Our Gang,” a surreal sendoff from the movie. Nixon administration. It was published in 1971 – before the world even learned of the Watergate corruption.
For decades Roth was associated with The New Yorker, which first published it in 1958. In consecutive issues in 1979, the magazine published the full text of his novel “The Ghost Writer”, which featured the character of Nathan Zuckerman, whose voice he would then write several of his most famous later works.
“Few novelists have been as harassed by personal interrogations as Roth, or so publicly distressed by them,” said the reviewer. Nathaniel Rich wrote in The New York Review of Books in March.
Rich took note of the dual antagonism and respect with which many American Jewish intellectuals viewed him, whose exposure of the disillusionment with the American Dream held by a particular subset of the Jewish intelligentsia was sufficiently close to the os to be both real and disturbing.
But Rich concluded that Roth’s idiosyncratic perspective was needed more than ever.
“Readers and critics, overwhelmed by the nihilism of the current political nightmare, have sought solace in fiction which affirms their principles and beliefs, a fiction in which victimized peoples emerge triumphant,” he wrote in March.
“They want a new Exodus, new Leon Urises. And they will get them. But we should be hoping for something more. We should be hoping for a new Philip Roths.”
CORRECTION: (May 23, 2018, 10:05 am ET): An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to Roth’s parental background. They came from the historic region of what is now Poland and Ukraine, then known as Galicia, not the region of Galicia in Spain.