Friday, December 28, 2007

EXIT GHOST by Philip Roth (2007)

There is no finer contemporary American novelist than Philip Roth. He won me over with THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA and has kept me going through THE HUMAN STAIN, EVERYMAN and now EXIT GHOST, the final Nathan Zuckerman novel. He writes about aging and the betrayals of the body with honesty and directness.

In EXIT GHOST, Zuckerman--entrenched in his 70s--returns to New York City to seek treatment from a urologist who offers a procedure that may save him the embarrassment of wetting himself and wearing diapers that have been a daily part of his life since his prostate surgery a few years before. By happenstance Zuckerman remeets a woman he met only in passing 40 years previously at the home of a revered novelist E.I. Lonoff. Amy Bellette buried her famous lover decades ago and is facing her own death from brain cancer.

When Zuckerman answers an ad in the paper placed by young writers who wish to house swap with someone outside of the city, he finds himself falling for Jamie, the young Harvard grad whose sexuality arouses him in a way he'd abandoned as plausible. And, her attraction enables Zuckerman to write again. "Things fall apart. The centre cannot hold."

THE MAYTREES by Annie Dillard (2007)

I've been a longtime fan of Dillard's prose since I read her memoir AN AMERICAN CHILDHOOD which was charming and evocative. I was excited to pick up THE MAYTREES which received a glowing review in the Sunday NY Times. However, I found it plodding and poncy with at least a word on each page that I had to look up in the OED. Its pretense of cleverness ruined the read for me.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

THE ABSTINENCE TEACHER by Tom Perrotta (2007)

I heard Perrotta talking about his most recent novel at Ben McNally's Books and Brunch at the King Edward last week. Perrotta was compelled to write a book wherein he could contemplate the current polemic in the USA with the rise of fundamentalism, especially post 9/11.

So, in THE ABSTINENCE TEACHER, he follows the narratives of two characters, both loving, middle-aged parents of young girls. Ruth Ramsey is the health teacher at the local high school who believes that "pleasure is good, shame is bad and knowledge is power." Her daughter's soccer coach, Tim Mason, has found Jesus at the local Tabernacle under the guidance of Pastor Dennis after having hit rock bottom in a life of drug abuse and philandering. His evangelical church makes Ruth the focus of a very public crusade that leads to her redeployment in the classroom where she refuses to teach an abstinence only curriculum.

The most stable romantic relationship in the book is one between two gay men who have been together for over 15 years and are contemplating leaving their all-American suburb to begin life anew in Massachusetts, the only state in the union where it is possible for gay couples to marry.

THE ABSTINENCE TEACHER is a perfect mixture of compassion and satire and has me reaching for Perrotta's other more famous books, ELECTION and LITTLE CHILDREN. This guy knows how to write.