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Philip Roth and the Zuckerman Books: The Making of a Storyworld By Pia Masiero ...

Chapter :  Introduction
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Philip Roth and the Zuckerman Books:

This choice is no mere offhand editorial whim, but rather it marks a crucial change in Roth’s own perception of his work—it signals his desire to recast his writing in terms of voices and masks. Roth imposes a retrospective external coherence, inviting the reader to apprehend his work in those same terms and to look for an internal coherence linking chronologically disseminated books.

In this way, Roth’s decision explicitly directs his readers to identify the source and center of gravity of his fictional universe in the art of impersonation and to read retrospectively and transversally.

I have taken up both these invitations and set out to analyze that portion of the Jewish American writer’s production identified with Nathan Zuckerman’s narrative voice from the vantage point of having seen it all. Exit Ghost, published in 2007, provides with its very title the closing of the nine-book narrative presided over by Nathan Zuckerman.

My goal is to trace Zuckerman’s fictional birth, growth, and death; to explore how Roth has been progressively creating and refining this mask and voice as a means to come to terms with his own biography, history, and his own self as a writer; and how he has been presenting this self as culturally significant—to use Parrish’s words, as “an American who happens to be a Jew” (“Roth” 127). Contextually, this exploration strives to keep a special focus on how readers follow this trajectory and assist in its creation. The chosen focus, thus, is a consequence of Roth’s declaring the demise of Nathan Zuckerman and of his being Roth’s most celebrated (and representative) alter ego.

Zuckerman amplifies and—in ways I try to illuminate in the following pages—perfects the typically Rothian tendency to draw materials for his fictional writing from his own life. As Alan Cooper convincingly explained, the publication of Roth’s autobiography The Facts (1988) finally both disclosed and confirmed that “whole episodes and some key plots of the sixties’ and seventies’ novels were indeed drawn from Roth’s young adult life, that major characters were fictionalizations of friends, relatives, lovers, and his first wife” (52). Cooper provided a very long list detailing characters and situations in Roth’s fiction as “either identified in The Facts as autobiographical” or having “analogs