Everyman • Indignation • The Humbling • Nemesis
For the first time in one volume, Roth’s haunting quartet of novels grappling with the fate that awaits us all
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Published together for the first time as the author intended, Nemeses is a quartet of novels whose terrain is the human body and whose subject, the common experience that terrifies us all. Everyman (2006) takes its title from a classic of early English drama, whose theme is the summoning of the living to death. It tells the story of one man’s lifelong skirmish with mortality, from his first shocking confrontation with death on the idyllic beaches of his childhood summers into old age, when, facing the end, he is a man who has become what he does not want to be.
Set against the backdrop of the Korean War, Indignation (2008) is the extraordinary narrative of Marcus Messner of Newark, New Jersey, a sophomore at conservative Winesburg College in Ohio. Aspiring to intellectual independence and sexual experience while struggling to shake off the stifling conformity of his classmates and the suffocating spectre of a father mad with fear and apprehension for his beloved boy, Messner is schooled in “the terrible, the incomprehensible way one’s most banal, incidental, even comical choices achieve the most disproportionate result.”
Everything is over for Simon Axler, the protagonist of The Humbling (2009), Roth’s thirtieth book. One of the leading American stage actors of his generation, now in his sixties, he has lost his magic, his talent, and his assurance. Into this inexplicable and terrifying self-evacuation bursts a counterplot of unusual erotic desire so risky and aberrant that it points not toward comfort and gratification but to a yet darker and more shocking end.
It is the summer of 1944 and Newark playground director Bucky Cantor is waging his own private war against a terrifying polio epidemic besieging his closely knit, family-oriented neighborhood. Focusing on Cantor’s mounting dilemmas as the epidemic ravages the children he loves, Nemesis (2010) is a tenderly exact portrait of the emotions—fear and anger, bewilderment and grief—that spread with the contagion.
Ross Miller, volume editor, is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Connecticut and has taught at Yale, Wesleyan, and Trinity College. He is the author of American Apocalypse: The Great Fire and the Myth of Chicago and Here’s the Deal: The Buying and Selling of a Great American City.
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