On the dust jacket of The Facts is a 1950 photograph of Roth’s senior homeroom class at Weequahic High School in Newark. The future author gazes into the camera with a cherubic smile, the kind of boy of whom teachers and parents were justly proud. Yet the observer notes that in the group portrait he is standing slightly to the side of the others, as though already committed to Emily Dickinson’s ambition to “tell all the Truth, but tell it slant.”
In his 1961 essay “Writing American Fiction,” Roth bemoaned the imagination’s inability to rival the grotesque reality of contemporary American life. Why invent when the world already offers up events and characters that exceed the powers of fantasy? Roth’s fictions have been a slanted tribute and challenge to that world. His autobiography is a carefully constructed demonstration of how difficult it is not to shape The Facts. Though Roth claims “exhaustion with masks, disguises, distortions, and lies,” he nevertheless, in another of his characteristically sly exercises in imagination, has Zuckerman note that autobiography is “probably the most manipulative of all literary forms.”
Written when its fifty-five-year-old author was recovering from what he refers to vaguely as surgery that put him on “the edge of emotional and mental dissolution,” The Facts presents itself as the attempt of a middle-aged author to reconcile himself at last to the ghosts...
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