Patrimony

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

"You must not forget anything,” chides a posthumous paternal voice to conclude PATRIMONY. Roth’s twentieth book is an act of filial responsibility to the memory of his father, who died on October 25, 1989. Retired after forty years of devoted service to the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, Herman Roth was eighty-six when afflicted by partial facial paralysis. Younger son Philip, age fifty-six, solicits several medical opinions, and the diagnosis is a massive brain tumor. Herman undergoes exploratory surgery, but, with success uncertain and agony assured, he opts against an operation that might remove the tumor. PATRIMONY records the changing relationship between father and son as each faces the inevitability of the older man’s death.

Despite the pathos of its subject, the book is rich in unexpected and even comic observation. Driving to his ailing father’s apartment in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Roth gets lost and ends up at his mother’s gravestone. In Manhattan, he is driven by a cabbie who, like some patricidal demon, boasts of having knocked out his own father’s teeth. As a famous author, Roth is importuned for help in getting published by an Auschwitz survivor who has written pornographic memoirs.

Dominating the story and the author’s thoughts and recollections is the tenacious, pugnacious figure of Herman Roth, a loving and overbearing man who, like his son, must learn to accept impermanence, the process noted in the title...

(The entire section is 436 words.)