Red Wheelbarrow Book Reviews

Renee Abigail Penelope Harold Meg

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from Renée's Reviews




by Philip Roth

But there was nothing to be done. No fight to put up. You take it and endure it. Just give yourself over to it for as long as it lasts.

Just take it as it comes. Hold your ground and take it as it comes. There's no other way.

Muscle through. Barrel through.

In an interview with Philip Roth, he tells the story of Everyman, a line of english plays from the 15th century, allegorical plays - moral theatre - which were performed in cemetaries and of which the theme was always salvation. The Everyman of 1485 by Anonymous tells the reader that if he works hard, he will go to heaven. When Death comes to visit Everyman to announce his presence, Everyman says: "Oh death, thou cometh when I had thee least in mind."


This book is about dying. The story is simple. It concerns a commercial artist, his two sons from a first marriage who despise their father, his beloved daughter from a second marriage, his older brother whom he has always admired, his parents and finally the third wife and various women he has loved or coveted. It is the story of his loneliness, his messy marriages, his love of his parents and his brother, but above all it is the story of the questioning of the meaning of the life lived. He has had innumerable illnesses, surgeries, but now, at 71, he stands at death's door and all his life's central moments appear before him in interlocking circles.

The book begins at the end with the funeral of the main character and moves back in time to return to the cemetary in which he talks to the bones of his parents, "they were just bones, bones in a box, but their bones were his bones, and he stood as close to the bones as he could, as though the proximity with them might link him up with them and mitigate the isolation born of losing his future and reconnect him with all that had gone......The flesh melts away but the bones endure..."

I find that I want to continue to quote. Why should you read my words when you can read Roth's?

It is a small book and yet it is both heavy and important if you want to know Philip Roth and if you want to think about your own life. Roth has no salvation in mind. Hard work will not bring you to Paradise. "The bones were the only solace there was to one who put no stock in an afterlife and knew without a doubt that God was a fiction and this was the only life he'd have."

The last chapter is open to several meanings.

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