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THE HUMBLING by Philip Roth Kirkus Star

THE HUMBLING

By Philip Roth

Pub Date: Nov. 2nd, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-547-23969-9
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Another concise, bruising examination of sexual obsession in early old age from Roth (Indignation, 2008, etc.).

A series of disastrous stage performances have persuaded much admired 65-year-old actor Simon Axler that—not unlike, not at all unlike Shakespeare’s Prospero—he has “lost his magic.” The complex dénouement that follows this crisis of recognition shows us multiple facets of Simon’s “humbling.” His bitter insistence that his talent has fled him is challenged in a superbly animated conversation with his longtime agent, a stubborn spirit urging Simon to fight to reclaim what’s his. During an illuminating stay at a psychiatric hospital, Simon measures his own pain and loss against the sufferings of a frail fellow patient betrayed by her monstrously selfish husband. In the novel’s centerpiece section, Simon has a serpentine though rejuvenating affair with 40-year-old Pegeen Mike, a “reformed” lesbian attracted by the stability and the financial resources of this seductive, obviously smitten older man. Their dramatic folie à deux plays out the only way it can, fulfilling the subtle promises of its early scenes. Roth connects the dots precisely and ruthlessly, allowing Simon to realize that “he could no more figure out how to play the elderly lover abandoned by the mistress twenty-five years his junior than he’d been able to figure out how to play Macbeth.”

Allusive, elusive and peppered with mordant wit to a downright Strindbergian degree—one of Roth’s most eloquent, painful and memorable books.