A letter to Philip Roth
Text Nicola Manuppelli
While I am drinking coffee, Hank consumes his bowl of croquettes early this morning, as we routinely stream the news of the New York Times. I have many friends over there, and today one is gone. The coffee remains in my throat, and the feeling is strange, halfway between sorrow and reconciliation, as I read about the death of Philip Roth. I sit at my desk and like Charlie Brown in one of his letters, I note down thoughts about Roth.
The fact is, dear Roth, that those books, at least for me, have awakened the interest in American literature, as happened to previous generations with Hemingway and Fitzgerald. You have been our passe-partout. I remember that all your books started to be published after American Pastoral. The previous ones I had found in the stalls: Sabbath’s Theater, Goodbye, Columbus. There was an evolution in your narrative that from the initial anger led to something more powerful, a kind of severe wisdom.
It is not just about this. The fact is that your novels have accompanied me from adolescence to becoming an adult, and then I abandoned you when you were abandoning writing. Curiously, with a book called Nemesis. Now it seems to me that all that time comes back. My favorites were not the famous Pastoral and Portnoy, but I Married a Communist and The Dying Animal, which takes its title from a poem by Yeats. In I Married a Communist there is a canary funeral scene on the streets of New Jersey. A page of great American literature. And then there is the story of this man victim of McCarthyism who tries to float at all costs and who fights like a boxer. Boxing was a perfect metaphor for your writing: tenacity, aggression, training, power. There has never been such a muscular writing, even when you jumped gracefully on the carpet of words, because boxing is also technique and agility.
Like those friends who hang out too much, then there was a gap. I had read everything about you, and perhaps we had nothing more to say to each other. As one of those beautiful moments that you do not want to touch anymore. Now yes. Now I realise that those books were sticking to my days in a special way. They were true novels, in a period of experimentation, with stories and characters in three dimensions. They stuck to you because they took your time to take you somewhere else. I do not know why, but I am here in front of your picture on the New York Times website and now I can only remember beautiful things. A few thousand wonderful, perfect pages. So, thank you, Philip.