Saturday, September 04, 2021

Abandoned Books: The Humbling by Philip Roth

I haven't done an "Abandoned Book" post in eight years: that's longer than I thought. I'm sure I gave up on books in the meantime, but maybe I didn't have anything to say about them.

Philip Roth's The Humbling is a short novel, maybe actually a novella, published in 2008 when its author was seventy-five. He only wrote one more book, which came out the next year, but lived for another decade. And I've never read any Roth before, despite having a number of his books lying around for years and year.

So I read almost half of this - 60 of 138 pages - and decided I didn't want to go on any further. It was meandering to that point, in a way I was worried indicated an old writer losing control of his powers, but that wasn't the problem. It was very talky, the opposite of "show, don't tell," but I'd generally enjoyed that voice for the first fifty pages or so.

No, there was a sexual-politics element starting up, which I suspect may be the central element of this short book, and I was arguing with it strongly in my head. I had the feeling I was deeply out of sympathy with what Roth was doing, and that gap was only going to get wider as the novel went on. (To state one piece of it: trans people are not rejecting their current partners in their quest to become their true selves. I suspect it's more often absolutely the opposite of that. Roth, I'm afraid, bluntly stated that a lesbian woman committed the worst treason possible to her partner by transitioning to male.)

So I was the wrong reader, or it was the wrong time, and I noped out. No insult to the book, which I didn't quite read half of. I still plan to try Roth again, though I think I'll go earlier in his career for the next attempt - maybe I'll just hit Portnoy's Complaint to be obvious.

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