Readers recently lost a legend in Phillip Roth. Though he passed away, his ideas live throughout the wonderful stories he wrote. I was introduced to Phillip Roth when earning my Masters in English Literature. The assigned novella was Goodbye Columbus, but included five additional short stories. After I read the book I begin searching for Roth’s quotes and other stories. He was an author who was dedicated to the characters he created. He made them flawed, realistic, and overall, easy to relate to and believe. In Goodbye Columbus, he proves his loyalty and patience with his characters and their interactions with another; the characters build off one another. In this novella the dynamics between a boy and a girl from two different places in life create a relationship. From Goodbye Columbus, he says, “Actually we did not have the feelings we said we had until we spoke them–at least I didn’t; to phrase them was to invent them and own them” (Roth). Words are separate from how they are produced. Feelings are not evident until expressed through words. With the two main characters in this novella, the words in which they speak and the way they speak them is essential in being the intimacy between the boy and girl.
For his readers, Roth says, “Everybody else is working to change, persuade, tempt and control them. The best readers come to fiction to be free of all that noise” (Roth). What does he mean by “free” from all the noise? He seems to be saying not all readers read to be controlled, persuaded, or changed, but simply want to read a good story and with characters they can relate to. Reading has been an escape for me. It has been a way to learn about other people, cultures, and how they react to others and the world. Roth has been a great source to provide me these learning tools.
Roth had a way with words, of course. That is what writers do. However, using words is one of his main strengths in developing his stories and characters. His diction brings his characters to life by making their intentions clear and making them feel real. He also has a way of using intimacy at times to express his characters’ thoughts about another character. His writing seems to be inspired by the intimacy created between two individuals. He says, “Now, I’m very vulnerable to female beauty, as you know. Everybody’s defenseless against something, and that’s it for me. I see it and it blinds me to everything else.” This I believe is one of the inspirations of his writing and the development of his characters.
Below is a link to an article about Phillip Roth along with some of his recommended books.