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Friday, August 16, 2019

Exit Ghost (2007) by Philip Roth


Book Review
Exit Ghost (2007)
 by Philip Roth

  Exit Ghost is the final of the nine book Nathan Zuckerman series by Philip Roth.   I think you can probably divide Roth's career into the period before Portnoy's Complaint, when he was three novels into a career as a writer that showed promise, but hadn't delivered fame and fortune, and after Portnoy's Complaint, published in 1969, which catapulted Roth into the world of general and literary celebrity that comes maybe three or four times in a generation.   The Zuckerman series started a decade after Portnoy's Complaint, and a common theme in the first four books is Nathan Zuckerman dealing with the consequences of his post-fame live, specifically, the impact on his immediate family.

  Family continues to dominate through the fifth book, The Counterlife (1986), and then the last three books before Exit Ghost feature Zuckerman as a listener, and the plots revolve around the characters talking to him.   Exit Ghost returns to the earliest book and picks up with a Zuckerman centered narrative, with Nathan in Manhattan and returning to the territory of the first book, The Ghost Writer, which was about Zuckerman's relationship with an reclusive, isolated author when he was a young man.

  Exit Ghost picks up the thread half a century later, with Zuckerman seeking medical treatment in New York City, leaving his isolated cabin in New England for the first time in a decade.  Impulsively, he responds to an ad placed by a young pair of New York writers who want to swap their apartment in the city for an isolated cabin.    Zuckerman quickly becomes obsessed with Jamie Logan, the wife of the young couple, and through her he is introduced to Richard Kilman, a young man trying to write an autobiography of E.I. Lonoff, the reclusive mentor figure from The Ghost Writer.   Kilman knows about an incestous affair Lonoff had with his older sister, and Zuckerman swears to stop him from publishing about it. 

  Like Prague Orgy, Exit Ghost is more of a coda and less of stand-alone novel, clearly secondary to the the other seven books. 

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