Letting Go by Philip Roth
New York : Random House, 1962. Second printing. Hardcover. 630 pages ; 21 cm. $5.95 dust jacket. Jacket's in tattered condition. Owner name written on flyleaf. Otherwise, a very good copy with firm binding, clean and unmarked pages.
"Frankly, I'm sick of other people's troubles . . . I'm really finding it difficult to keep up with what certain people want of me."
So speaks Gabe Wallach, a charming, "careful" young man and the hero of this brilliant new novel. Letting Go is Philip Roth's first full-length work and easily justifies the expectation aroused after the publication of his first book, Goodbye, Columbus, a work that won an array of prizes culminating in the National Book Award for the most distinguished work of fiction in 1960.
In Letting Go, Mr. Roth has brought his wit and insight to bear on a contemporary scene of love and responsibility. It is with the debts and sorrows of Gabe Wallach that we are primarily concerned, with his sporadic, backhanded and finally desperate attempts to find a proper relationship between his own worldly good fortune and the misfortune of others. Gabe's behavior throughout the four-year span of this novel can be described as a kind of frenetic contest between his sympathies and his instinct for self-protection—an instinct to which we all are prey, but of which Gabe becomes a victim.
The sometimes willing, sometimes involuntary partners in Gabe's struggle are three: Martha Reganhart, a warm, spirited, tough-minded divorcee with two children; Paul Herz, an intense, melancholy young faculty colleague of Gabe's at the University of Chicago; and Libby Herz, Paul's bewitching, exasperating and mercurial young wife. To each of these three people Gabe is irresistably drawn; a man of firm conscience but unsettled emotions, he is one who finds it difficult to resist an appeal.
From the opening pages of the novel to the last, the reader follows Gabe through the comic and tragic events into which he is led in his effort to rescue others without drowning himself. Until the last moment he fails to see the distinction between ephemeral attention to others' needs and the responsibility and commitment to their futures. Only at the end is he able to "let go," to release himself from the irresponsibilities of a well-ordered existence, to plunge headlong into the confusion of human life.
The novel is set principally in Chicago, where Gabe and Paul are instructors at the University, and in Iowa and New York City. The fabric of the novel, as Mr. Roth has woven it, is hilarious, compassionate, even wicked. His ear for dialogue is uncanny and his characterizations are masterful; his portrait of Libby Herz, for instance, is as definitive as those of Daisy Miller and Carol Kennicott. Above all, as readers of Goodbye, Columbus can attest, Philip Roth is a skillful satirist of the American scene, and his aim, whether the target is the academic community or middle-class smugness, is deadly.
It is for his powers of wit, observation and understanding that Mr. Roth has already been hailed as one of America's major young writers; it is in his willingness to grapple with the complex theme of human responsibility that establishes him as a mature and important artist.
PHILIP ROTH was born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1933 and attended the public schools there. He received his B.A. in 1954 from Bucknell University, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and a year later received an M.A. from the University of Chicago, He has spent time since then traveling, writing, and teaching, and with his wife has lived for varying lengths of time in Chicago, New York, Rome, London, and Iowa City.
Mr. Roth's stories have appeared in Harper's, the New Yorker, Esquire, Commentary, Paris Review, and other magazines. In 1959 his first book, Goodbye, Columbus, was published and was awarded the National Book Award for Fiction for 1960, as well as the Daroff Award of the Jewish Book Council of America. In the same year, Mr. Roth received a Guggenheim grant, and a grant from the National Institute of Arts and Letters,which carried, in part, this citation: "To Philip Roth . . . for what he has done to make the landscape and the population of his part of the world interesting and human. His,.. Goodbye, Columbus marks the coming of age of a brilliant, penetrating, and undiscourageable young man of letters."
During the academic year 1962-63 Mr. Roth will be the Writer-in-Residence at Princeton University.
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