Remnick, who periodically writes for the New Yorker, points out in the magazine's current issue that authors often express horror at biographers pillaging their lives and work.
But Roth cooperated with Bailey, granting him a number of interviews and complete access to his files. Roth didn't seek to control Bailey's views.
Bailey's 900-pound opus arrives April 6, nearly three years after Roth's death, and is receiving extensive critical attention, most of it positive.
The author of acclaimed biographies of John Cheever, Richard Yates and Charles Jackson, and a family memoir, Bailey relentlessly plumbs Roth's affairs, tormented marriages, mental breakdowns and committed literary life, Remnick says, faulting Bailey for scant analysis of Roth's novels.
The Roth book follows Hermione Lee's authorized biography of playwright Tom Stoppard, who unlike Roth remained alive to see the publication of his biography.
Like Roth with Bailey, Stoppard fully cooperated with Lee. Remnick says that Lee turned down Roth's offer to write his biography before he hired Bailey to do the book.
Citing John Updike's conflicted views, Remnick wonders about the value of literary biographies, especially in regard to such a comprehensive and self-absorbed writer as Roth. He concludes that such books can enhance the appreciation of an author's work, but seems less than convinced that Bailey achieved that.
Roth often based his novels on his own life, and wrote several memoirs, yet Bailey apparently uncovered fresh details, especially about Roth's sexual exploits, making for a high gossip quotient.
Remnick writes from the perspective of his friendship with Roth, and his eager reading of Roth's 31 books as they were published. He also had a similar middle-class Jewish upbringing as Roth.
I enjoyed Bailey's books on Cheever and Yates, and will give the Roth book a try, although its length and obsessive detail are daunting. Roth's career has been a source of fascination through the years, which stokes my interest in the biography.
While I accept that Roth is a major novelist, his books either enthralled or repelled me. I saw "Portnoy's Complaint" as a blast of free expression, and admired the mainstream literary skill of "Goodbye Columbus."
Several of the Nathan Zuckerman Books engaged me, but I couldn't stand the insufferable antihero of the lauded "Sabbath's Theater" and found oppressive the overwrought sentences of "American Pastoral" and "I Married a Communist." I lack sufficient imagination to accept the premise of "The Plot Against America." Roth's last books, "Nemesis" and "Indignation," were among my favorites.
After retiring from writing in the last years of his life, Roth believed that Bailey would give a final assessment of his career. Remnick, and others, believe that Bailey mainly succeeded.