Take a look at those sentences, thundering across the page

Novelists rarely retire in the formal sense, and tend not to stage news conferences when they do. Philip Roth…who died in Manhattan on Tuesday at age 85, took a different approach six years ago when he let it be known through the press that he had quit writing fiction — after more than 50 years of near-constant scribbling.

He had nothing more to say, he contended, and was happy to put the struggle of writing behind him. He envied the “gush of prose” he attributed to two of his rivals, John Updike and Saul Bellow, but lamented his own writing process as a grueling “fight for my fluency” that dragged on sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph, until the novel reached the finish line.

It seems doubtful that writing came easily for Mr. Updike or Mr. Bellow, and it could well be that the smoldering and hard-edge style he sought was simply more difficult to come by. Those Rothian sentences can be felt slamming across the page like tennis aces or marching forward in a phalanx, giving the reader no refuge from the argument the author is making…

Take a look at those sentences, thundering across the page, one after another, like an advancing line of earth movers.

~ Brent Staples, from “Philip Roth’s Earth-Moving Prose” (NY Times, May 23, 2018)

Photo of Philip Roth via Telegraph


  1. Thank you, David, for sharing this. His greatness rose when he did what few others do. He stopped writing…because he had nothing left to say. RIP

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes Gordon. Authenticity right to the end…


    • C.M. In a few months you’ll turn 85. Do you feel like an elder? What has growing old been like?

      P.R. Yes, in just a matter of months I’ll depart old age to enter deep old age — easing ever deeper daily into the redoubtable Valley of the Shadow. Right now it is astonishing to find myself still here at the end of each day. Getting into bed at night I smile and think, “I lived another day.” And then it’s astonishing again to awaken eight hours later and to see that it is morning of the next day and that I continue to be here. “I survived another night,” which thought causes me to smile once more. I go to sleep smiling and I wake up smiling. I’m very pleased that I’m still alive. Moreover, when this happens, as it has, week after week and month after month since I began drawing Social Security, it produces the illusion that this thing is just never going to end, though of course I know that it can stop on a dime. It’s something like playing a game, day in and day out, a high-stakes game that for now, even against the odds, I just keep winning. We will see how long my luck holds out.

      ~ Charles McGarth, No Longer Writing, Philip Roth Still Has Plenty to Say (The New York Times, January 16, 2018)

      Liked by 3 people

  2. his words march across the page as ever

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A towering talent. He went to bed smiling…that’s what I’m going with.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. It is funny how for some each word is a struggle and for others, seems a breeze. I remember hearing a story about Leonard Cohen discussing how writing his poems and songs was a struggle and, now I can’t find the sourc, but it was Bob Dylan or Neil Young who said: Really? They just spew out of me easily…

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I remember when Stephen King threatened to retire after he got hit by a car. But he couldn’t stop. I don’t think many writers can stop. It’s just who they are.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Christie says:

    I’ve not read any of Mr Roth’s work…Sounds like Mr. Roth lived life in honesty, in his framework of thought was appreciation & high standards…though mostly I think he found such a freedom in thinking…no one could ever constrain his internal thoughts…his intellect and that of another recently passed American writer, Ursula K. Le Guin (who was regarded as a Writer’s, writer) written words have captured others thoughts, causing ponder…PS:Even though he was such a prolific writer I wonder if it might have been hard for Mr. Roth to write and then edit because he wanted his to get it just right as to impact…

    Liked by 1 person

  7. (Very) late comment. Wanted to be sure that your ‘regulars’ have spent their time before I come in with my personal feelings about PR. I ‘met’ this writer when I worked in a quite special position for various ppl ‘in the say’ in an international HQ. One day, out of the blue, the wife of the CEO visited HQ in Switzerland and brought me a PR book. I never got into it, first of all it was American and at that time, wahayyyy before Internet, I didn’t know anything about this writer nor was I even remotedly interested in his writing – I felt the book was cynical, cold and unpleasant to read. I put it away and gave it later on to an American friend who took it with great pleasure. So much for my then ‘maturity’…..
    Later on, decades later?, I read much more about Roth but was never compelled to do anything about my former mixed opinion of him – and that was the end of my ‘fascination’ with this great writer! Luckily, for me, I’m blessed with many, many other writers, maybe less famous, many certainly unknown to Americans, but I’m in peace with myself, my reading choices and – maybe – in hindsight, should have kept THAT book…. I often thought since that I certainly would read it NOW (since the new century) and that I might have a different appreciation. RIP Mr Roth – your ignorant reader.

    (My English, although pretty good for ‘then’, probably wasn’t up to that sort of challenge either, I reckon.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sharing Kiki. I have similar reactions to other acclaimed authors. Your comment reminds me of how very personal art is. Your thoughts also remind me of:

      The feeling that the music or novel engenders — a feeling of appreciation for small acts of kindness — may be termed katabasis, a going down. It is worth dignifying it with a special name because, although generally unremarked, it is one of the most significant and valuable movements of consciousness that art can achieve. It is a counterpart of the famous notion of the sublime, in which we come to an ecstatic self-awareness. In the moment of katabasis, we come down from the ordinary plateau of indifference, we recognize the dark backgroun bed of existence — its loneliness, disappointment, fragility — and from here we see clearly just how much we really need (like the emerging melody) the hesitant tenderness of another person.

      — John Armstrong, excerpt from “Love’s Increase,” Conditions of Love: The Philosophy of Intimacy (Penguin Books, 2003) (via silently sharing the same fears)

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Lordie, you’re deep at this time of the day….. 🙂
    Thank you for taking the time to even think about my reactions. You’re certainly right – I have very strong reactions to music, to take an example. Great quote!
    Have a good day – this is a short week for you – and for me this is a very long day (still to come – up since 5am)

    Liked by 1 person

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