If Philip Roth had never written his distinctive fictions, few would probably be interested in his account of a not especially exceptional life away from books. Without the intense and widespread reaction that his stories have provoked, he certainly would never have written The Facts, a maligned and self-maligning author’s attempt to set the record straight by shaping it to fit the category of nonfiction. Just as Our Gang (1971) employed grotesque caricature in order to posit truths about the Nixon Administration and The Ghost Writer (1979) implausibly resurrected Anne Frank in New England in order to discover universal truths about the connections among suffering, love, and art, The Facts marshals verifiable data to create another of Roth’s troubled narratives.
Students of Roth’s career will likely be intrigued by correspondences between events in his life and episodes in his writing. In My Life As a Man (1974), for example, Peter Tarnopol is duped into marrying Maureen Johnson when she feigns pregnancy by borrowing the urine sample of a black woman she encounters in the park. In The Facts, Roth points out that the woman he calls Josie perpetrated virtually the same fraud on him. He claims, however, that this section of My Life As a Man was the most directly autobiographical of his fictions, because he simply could not imagine a more dramatic scenario: “Those scenes represent one of...
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