I Reviewed Philip Roth
June 05, 2018, 02:55 PM
Print Friendly and PDF

A reader has chidden me for not having passed any comment on the May 22nd death of novelist Philip Roth, given that I published a review of Roth's 1998 novel I Married a Communist.

Well, it wasn't a very flattering review.

There is a discernible story and some excellent secondary characters (always a strong point of Roth's); though I think Ira himself is a failure, with no more blood in him than one of those thirty-foot statues of the heroic worker, hammer brandished aloft, that used to blight the public squares in Tirana and Blagovashchensk. The book's problem is one of attitude: the assumption that we all share the sentiments of the old Left. Not a fondness for communism — even the American Left has given up on that — but a gnawing, unsleeping, undiminishing, everlasting hatred of anti-communism. There is carelessness in the writing, too: Switzerland's currency is the Franc, not the Mark, and I do not believe the word "racism" was current in the 1940s. [Wholly Sanctimony by John Derbyshire; National Review, September 28 1998.]

I'd say of Roth what Orwell said of Evelyn Waugh: He was as good as novelist as it is possible to be while holding untenable opinions.