Exit Ghost by Philip Roth

Title: Exit Ghost
Author: Philip Roth
Hardcover: 292 pages
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company
Publish Date:2007
ISBN: 9780618975477

What surprised me most my first few days walking around the city? The most obvious thing – the cell phones. We had no reception as yet up on my mountain, and down in Athena, where they do have it, I’d rarely see people striding the streets talking uninhibitedly into their phones. I remembered a New York when the only people walking up Broadway seemingly talking to themselves were crazy. What had happened in these ten years fo there suddenly to be so much to say – so much so pressing that it couldn’t wait to be said? Everywhere I walked, somebody was approaching me talking on a phone and someone was behind me talking on a phone. Inside the cars, the driver were on the phone. When I took a taxi, the cabbie was on the phone. For one who frequently went without talking to anyone for days at a time, I had to wonder what that had previously held them up had collapsed in people to make incessant talking into a telephone preferable to walking about under no one’s surveillance, momentarily solitary, assimilating the streets through one’s animal senses and thinking the myriad thoughts that the activities of a city inspire. For me it made the streets appear comic and the people ridiculous.

Exit Ghost by Philip Roth, pages 63-64

Nathan Zuckerman is man in the twilight years of his life. As an author, words and ideas have been his medium to work and creation, yet, now age seventy-one, senility and his growing “word salad” difficulty has begun is slowly robbing him of his ability to write. Once virile and in control of his destiny, a prostectomy has rendered him impotent and incontinent. And, after ten years of New England solitude, the hope of regaining some bladder control from a medical procedure has brought him back to the cosmopolis of his exodus, New York City, where he likens himself to Rip Van Winkle, returning from his twenty-year nap and finding the entire world changed.

In his week-long stay, he makes connections with three people who that threaten to irreversibly alter his chosen isolation and reality. With the first, he makes a rash decision to answer an add to swap homes and meets the young and seductive, Jamie Logan, who inspires a fantasy affair in Zuckerman’s mind and reawakens his all-but-lost desire for female company. His second, the serendipitous running into of Amy Bellette, the mistress of his literary icon, Manny Lonoff, reminds him of both his youthful past and his ever-creeping mortality. The third connection he makes is with Richard Kliman, an abrasive, tenacious wanna-be literateur, who believes he has discovered Lonoff’s “great secret” and wants to write his biography, exposing the author’s shameful “crime” in the titillating tell-all fashion of the modern biography, a genre of current writing that is more Weekly World News than World News.

Meeting these three people force Zuckerman to face and accept the realities that his isolation has allowed him to ignore: He is getting old, each day bringing him closer to his own life’s end, and after his death he will no longer have control of that life he lived, as some young writer wanting to make a name for himself may decide to write the expose of Nathan Zuckerman. In the end, he asks himself this questions: Once I am dead, who can protect the story of my life? How will I have failed to be the model human? What will be my great, unseemly secret?

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Exit Ghost  is my first experience reading Philip Roth, but I don’t plan on making it my last. Slow going at first, I wasn’t sure I would really be able to get into it. How can a mid-thirties, single mom understand and relate to a septuagenarian man? How can I, a moderate to conservative Republican from the mid-west, relate to a liberal Democrat New Englander? I’m a product of the Eighties and Nineties, he is a product of the fifties and sixties. I’m a W.A.S.P. and he a Jew. I am in the Summer of my life when all my body parts are where the good Lord put them, and work within normal parameters. He is entering the Winter of his, incontinent, showing the beginning of dementia, with a mutinous body. I’m aware death will someday happen, though not many I know have experienced it. Zuckerman is facing it’s certainty, many of his friends and contemporaries having already passed through that gate.

However, for all this lack of commonality, Roth manages the miraculous; for a time, a young woman in her prime became an aging man in his decline.

Winner of several prestigious awards, Philip Roth is a skilled, intelligent yet readable, wordsmith. He references Joseph Conrad (an author I have not yet read, but I do have Heart of Darknesson Mt. TBR) often in Exit Ghost, and I found his writing style to be reminiscent of Faulkner (not surprisingly, he has won the PEN/Faulkner Award three times).

For it’s ability to transport the reader to a life completely foreign and unimaginable, as well as for it’s well-written and memorable passages that are sure to be included in quotable literature books, I give Exit Ghost by Philip Roth  five out of five stars.

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The Richest Season by Maryann McFadden

Title: The Richest Season
Author: Maryann McFadden
Hardcover: 326 pages
Publish Date: June 10, 2008
Publisher: Hyperion
ISBN: 9781401322700

Joanna looked down on the smooth, rolling hills of northern New Jersey, lush and green from the midsummer rains. This was where she had worked and shopped and cooked and cleaned, driven the curving roads that wound through those hills like ribbons of blacktop. She’d had a life down there, an existence that now seemed foreign to her from thousands of feet above, looking out the window of the plane. A kind of life, anyway. She’d left all those months ago, after all, because it had been so empty. And it still amazed her that she had done it- just walked away. Now with the clear vision of time and distance, she could see what a different person she’d been then. Fragile and numb. Lonely. Scared most of all because she wasn’t really certain she could survive on her own. But here she was, having crossed the threshold of a new life that made coming back to her old one a little unnerving, despite the fact she couldn’t wait to see her children.

Maryann McFadden’s The Richest Seasonis a story of journeys. First, it’s a telling of the journey of Joanna Harrison, who decides she’s had enough of being a piece of furniture in her corporate-climbing husband’s life. After accompanying him to a company banquet, she is surprised by the announcement of his promotion (and yet another move in her rootless 27 year marriage). The morning after the banquet, as he is flying to California on business, she gathers up a few things and drives off, leaving a message on his voice mail telling him it’s over. Joanna’s journey in the book is one of self-discovery: discovering she has the strength to stand on her own two, that she has hidden talents she’d never realized, and that she can indeed still feel passion, despite the years of being ignored.

The second journey is that of terminally ill Grace, for whom Joanna works as a helper of sorts doing some cooking and cleaning as well as errands and driving her to her doctor’s appointments. Grace’s journey is one of letting go and coming to terms with her life… and death. She also rediscovers a talent that she had laid aside long ago to be wife and mother, now fearing failure if she were to start again.

The third journey of The Richest Season is that of Paul Harrison, Joanna’s husband. With Joanna gone, Paul is forced to step back and take a long look at who he has become and how he has failed as a husband and father. Realizing, too late, that he had taken his wife for granted and had ignored her feelings for a long time, he wants his wife to come home. However, he has to learn that people will do what they want to do and he cannot impose his will on them. Paul comes to understand that a job title doesn’t define you as a person, and he learns that doing what you love can be just as much a “job” as the 9 to 5 grind.

There are several themes in The Richest Season: Friendship, love, conquering fear, acceptance, forgiveness, and wisdom. Through their friendship, Grace is able to give Joanna what her own alcoholic mother never could while Joanna acts as a surrogate daughter, with whom Grace can make peace with herself regarding her own feelings of failures as a mother. They learn that fear itself is worse than whatever you’re afraid of can do to you. They learn to let go of guilt, regret and the past and accept the future is a clean slate on which they can write their own life story.

I enjoyed The Richest Season, it was full of real-life happenings, it wasn’t sweet and wonderful, but contained real emotions that I could relate to. Having been through divorce, having been my mother’s support as my father went through the process of dying daily from cancer, being a mother who knows I haven’t always been the best mom I could be, knowing the longing to fill the empty spaces left by loneliness, all these feelings are incorporated in this book.

Part of me was hoping Joanna would get together with Hank, the shrimp-boat captain and loggerhead turtle savior.  Part of me was pulling for Paul to get his act together and for Joanna to work it out with him.  But part of me also hoped Joanna would realize she could do fine on her own and that she didn’t need a man.  Hey, at least all my bases were covered!  and I was write with one of them 😉

There was something that annoyed me with the writing style, though. I can’t put my finger on it, but it did hinder me from loving the book. That being said, I would give The Richest Season 4 out of 5 stars. A solid effort for McFadden’s first book. 😀