Last night at Redbar I finished reading Philip Roth’s Exit Ghost for the third time in ten years and it fucked me up in ways it couldn’t have fucked me up those first two times. I think part of it is because I also re-read The Ghost Writer just before it: the final and the first volumes, respectively, of the nine-volume Zuckerman saga.
In the first book he’s my age, 28, a writer just beginning to get some attention.
In the final book, Exit Ghost, he’s 71, esteemed and accomplished, and he’s being accosted by an up-and-coming 28-year-old writer so much like his former self.
Yesterday I also had a well-intentioned yet disastrous exchange with my ex, the one to whom I recently sent a letter and with whom I’ve been in fairly regular (and warm) contact since Mango died, and she left a very generous package on my doorstep.
When she and I were dating, as undergrads, I had recently read, as a freshman, Philip Roth’s late novel Indignation and though it was only mediocre. But then, for some reason, I read it a second time in my sophomore year, during a horrific fall semester where I thought it’d be wise to take all of my necessary math and science courses at the same time and get them over with, and I realized, with that second reading, that the 18-year-old narrator of that book, Marcus Messner, was essentially me. That he was being undone by similar hangups and temperamental shit.
I’d also recently heard Harold Bloom say that he reads Dickens’s Pickwick Papers once a year and, since Indignation was so galvanizing, I vowed to read it once a year for the rest of college. And I did.
Exit Ghost (taken as a direct follow-up to The Ghost Writer) has been hitting me over the past week in the same way that Indignation hit me when I was in college.
And, like Indignation, it’s a book that means a lot to me but that I also wouldn’t recommend it to pretty much anybody.