“What the obsessive man still wanted when he wasn’t mumbling blissfully in bed was an apology,” writes Bailey in “Philip Roth”. By whom? In a short time: vicious ex-women, the needy children of these ex-women, feminists who accused him of misogyny, Jewish critics who accused him of anti-Semitism, the New York Times, John Updike, Irving Howe, his bad back, Inadequate dedicated editors (“Your engine doesn’t knock at the sound of my name,” he chastised you), possibly the Nobel Committee. From the first page the message is clear: Roth is owed.
Bailey is the acclaimed biographer of writers like John Cheever and Richard Yates – “the sure dead,” as Hermione Lee described her own subjects. He once voiced suspicion of writing about the living: “I would have a hard time writing a single page without worrying about the consequences,” he said, admitting that he “almost certainly understood the content would water down “.
When they first met in 2012, an interview in fact, Roth was “the authoritative maestro” in every way, Bailey recalls in the recognitions, examining the credentials of this “Oklahoma Gentile” – what did he know about the Jewish-American literary tradition? Apparently mollified, Roth released a photo album dedicated to old friends – “an artifact that testifies to the only passion that ever rivaled his writing,” Bailey writes. “He fell in love with these women and vice versa; Some of them came to his bedside while he was dying, just like me. “
There is another version of this story. At a panel on Roth held a year after his death in 2018, Bailey recalled the interview but added a detail that he does not include in the book. Roth interviewed the Oklahoma gentile again, and again he produced the girlfriends album. But then the conversation turned to the Hollywood adaptations of Roth’s work. Bailey mentioned Ali MacGraw, who starred in “Goodbye, Columbus”. (He thought she was “just wow”.)
“I could have got them out,” said Roth.
“My God, man, why didn’t you?” Asked Bailey.
“OK,” replied Roth. “You are hired.”