In My Life as a Man, Roth invents a fictitious character, Peter Tarnopol, whose life closely parallels his own, just as the life of Tarnopol’s fictitious character, Nathan Zuckerman, closely parallels his. The result is what Roth calls a “useful fiction.” Such fictions help the writer explore alternative ideas of one’s fate—in this instance, alternative versions of Roth’s early years and particularly of his marriage to Margaret Martinson.
The novel begins with two such “useful fictions.” The first, “Salad Days,” recounts Zuckerman’s early childhood, not unlike Portnoy’s, although here it is the father who dominates rather than the mother. Lighthearted and funny, especially in Zuckerman’s seduction of Sharon Shatzky, it is different in tone from the darker humor of “Courting Disaster,” the “useful fiction” that follows it, in which Tarnopol describes his strange courtship and unhappy marriage to Maureen Ketterer.
In “My True Story,” Tarnopol drops his alter ego, Zuckerman, and attempts to tell what really happened. He writes while secluded in Quahsay, an artists’ colony similar to Yaddo, Roth’s favorite retreat. He describes meeting Maureen while an instructor at the University of Chicago. Not her beauty so much as her prior experience, especially with men who had mistreated and abused her, is her main attraction. Eventually, although their affair has been anything but tranquil, Maureen tricks...
(The entire section is 531 words.)