You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Friday, August 04, 2006


I picked up Everyman, by Philip Roth, because I needed to find an audiobook to listen to and it looked short, and I just finished listening to The Plot Against America. Everyman deals with the protagonist's aging and death.

One thing that bugs me about listening to a narration of a book instead of reading it is that some things are just not clear in the narration, but might be clearer in the text. I couldn't grasp the main character's name, and was cursing myself for not being able to remember it. Then I read in a review on Amazon that the protagonist is not named. Well, that's why I didn't know his name! Even though it's an understandable device, it's gets a little distracting when I start trying to think of what the main character's name is.

The story starts at the character's funeral, and then narrates his life. While his brother is always healthy, he himself is sickly, especially for the last couple decades of his life. The sickness is a clear warning of his mortality, which he broods over in the final years of his life. It casts a pall over his relationships. He almost wants to blame his brother for being the healthy one.

He goes through three wives, cheating on at least the first two. His sons from his first two marriage don't want to have anything to do with him, though his daughter from his second marriage is still close to him.

Moving to a retirement community just makes him depressed, since he's around old and sick people so much. He gives up teaching art after one of his student's kills herself. He even hits on a young female jogger who jogs by his neighborhood every day, only to find she changes her route afterwards. This is pretty ballsy for a guy almost old enough to be her grandfather. The narration makes it sound like his words are a suprise even to him, which is an odd thing to think about. Really, I think it shows his will is not as strong as his desire.

For a reflection on a life, it's filled with the wives and children he hasn't been there for, his mistresses he would rather be with, but nobody he's been good to. He never reconciles with anyone. There's really nothing in the life to be proud of. That's what makes him less of a true Everyman. I think most people, while having some regrets, would have more positive things in their lives. The negative is definitely something that someone worried about their mortality would brood on. But I would hope it wouldn't end up a dominant mood.

I enjoyed the scene with the gravedigger at the end. He speaks to a man digging a grave at the cemetery where his parents are buried, and asks him about digging and filling in graves. It really brought focus to the theme of mortality in a vivid way.

An interesting book, a real brooding on mortality, though not quite up to its potential. I would give it a B+.


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