Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Roth’s style, his approach to his persistent themes, has developed during the course of his career, and during each phase of that development he has engaged himself with the works of other writers. The Jamesian realism of his first novel (Letting Go, 1962) and the Dreiserian/Flaubertian realism of his second (When She Was Good, 1967) were followed by black comic extravaganzas (Portnoy’s Complaint, 1969), as close to Lenny Bruce as to Kafka, and then by a style (in The Professor of Desire) best described as Chekhovian. Less exuberant, less hysterical, more measured than that of his raucous comedies, this style has allowed the voices of Kepesh and Zuckerman to be, by turns, thoughtful and flippant, sympathetic and self-conscious, nostalgic and ironic, compassionate and satiric. Indeed, Zuckerman Bound is distinguished by a sense of the unexplainable mysteries of living and writing, a tenderness and a maturity that will come as a surprise to those who have only read his earlier work. His voice is now inimitable, able to shift from high comedy to deadly seriousness in the space of a comma. His control is such that he can remind his readers of Henry James, Kafka, Lenny Bruce, and Chekhov in the same work while remaining, without question, Philip Roth.

The Ghost Writer has been widely hailed as Roth’s masterpiece. A sensitive, deeply moving, exquisitely crafted portrait of the artist as a young man, it...

(The entire section is 484 words.)