No Complaints as American-Jewish Author Philip Roth Calls It a Day

Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail

Renowned American author Philip Roth, one of the leading Jewish writers of his generation, has apparently decided to quit writing. Having conceived everything from turning into a breast to a polio epidemic in his native New Jersey, Roth says his most recent novel will be his last.

The 79-year-old novelist recently told a French publication, Les inRocks, that his 2010 release "Nemesis" would be his final novel. Spokeswoman Lori Glazer of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt said Friday that she had spoken with Roth and that he confirmed his remarks. Roth's literary agent, Andrew Wylie, declined comment.

Roth was a prolific writer, completing more than 25 novels over half a century. He won virtually every prize short of the Nobel and wrote such classics as "Goodbye, Columbus," "Portnoy's Complaint," "American Pastoral" and "The Plot Against America."

His name will remain on new releases, if only because the Library of America has been issuing hardcover volumes of his work. Roth also is cooperating with award-winning biographer Blake Bailey on a book about his life.

The author chose an unexpected forum to break the news, but he has been hinting at his departure for years. He has said he no longer reads fiction and seemed to say goodbye to his fictional alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman, in the 2007 novel "Exit Ghost."

Retirement is rarely the preferred option for writers, for whom the ability to tell stories or at least set down words is often synonymous with life itself. Poor health, discouragement and even madness are the more likely ways literary careers end. Roth apparently is fit and his recent novels had been received respectfully, if not with the awe of his most celebrated work.

His parting words from "Nemesis": "He seemed to us invincible."

Roth's interview appeared in French and has been translated, roughly, by The Associated Press. He tells Les inRocks that "Nemesis" was "mon dernier livre" ("My last book"), and refers to "Howards End" author E.M. Forster and how he quit fiction in his 40s.

Roth said he doesn't plan to write a memoir, but will instead go through his archives and help ensure that Bailey's biography comes out in his lifetime.

Explaining why he stopped, Roth said that at age 74 he became aware his time was limited and that he started rereading his books of the past 20-30 years, in reverse order. He decided that he agreed with what the boxer Joe Louis had said late in life: that he had done the best he could with what he had.

Philip Roth, author of "Portnoy's Complaint" and many other novels, in 2012. Credit: Reuters