Friday, June 30, 2006


Philip Roth turns words around so beautifully, and before you know it he is making you think--as I was yesterday reading his new book, "Everyman." Like the original 15th-century morality play, "Everyman" addresses a central human concern:
We're all gonna die.

Everyman (although Jewish) is an atheist; and there's his problem, right there. Because he doesn't believe anything, he hasn't bothered to gather in community. Having avoided spiritual guidance from age 13, he lacks a structure for repentance, amendment of life, or service to others. And now that he's old and dying his main regret about his messed up relationships is there are too few people to care for poor him.

Roth gives everyman no excuse. He received everything he needed to make a good life: love, work, education, and religion up to age 13. His older brother Howie turned out wealthy, happily married, large-spirited and healthy. Everyman doesn't have Howie's luck though, and over many years his body lets him know that he is dying.

A wonderful neglected Jewish cemetery stands as a central symbol of this story. It was started by everyman's grandfather "to bury its members according to Jewish law and ritual." Everyman's daughter Nancy arranges his burial in this holy vandalized spot because she doesn't want him to be alone. Those tumble-down graves of dead Jews cry out, cry out to those who pass by. Clearly, everyman receives more grace than he deserves.


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