Philip Roth brings another vintage accomplishment to his amazing career with "Nemesis," which displays the traditional virtues of the novel while displaying his mastery of post-modern, "meta-fiction" techniqes. I've been reading Roth's work since young adulthood, and find his recent books as enjoyable as any he's written, often more so.
Some of his books, especially those of his Nathan Zuckerman alter ego, I found difficult to get through. The sentences are so relentlessly obsessive that I found litle air between them, little space to breathe as a reader. His later books, including "Nemesis," are more modulated, as if windows had been opened, letting in light and air. Roth has reached a sure, constant mastery, a deft, smooth maturity that reminds me of the Shakespeare of "The Tempest." Not that I would call Roth serene, mellow, untroubled. "Nemesis" handles troubling themes of mortality, courage, commitment and religion, and in its own way ends as one of Roth's most haunting and challenging books.
Once again, an earnest, well-meaning man pays a heavy price for his sense of duty and community responsibility. Youth and beauty are victims of disease, death and community fears and ignorance. Roth in his continuing portrayals of close-knit Jews in a lost world of a vibrant Newark again narrows his vision to a striving, beset community, both enriched and burdened by custom and religious ceremony.
Whiler showing himself one of the masters of post-modern fiction, Roth here, as in other recent books, turns to the classic narrative techniques of 19th century masterpieces. Scenes and settings vividly live in the imagination. Newark streets of the late 1940s pulse with life again. A rural camp in the Poconos is made vividly real, a virtuouso accomplishment of Roth's imagaination. The camp for Jewish kids is strikingly and amusingly inspired by an exaggerated and distorted vision of American Indian culture.
Along with imaginative power, Roth's book also has strong historical value in showing the terror, despair, paranoia and helplessness of the polio epidemic of the late 1940s, as well as the hopeful but uneasy mood of the homefront in the last days of World War II. While Roth richly depicts a communal tragedy, the most haunting story is one man's loss of hope, optimism and health. "Nemesis" shows Roth in full command of his narrative pallette.