He argued that real life, the life out of newspaper headlines, was outdoing the imagination of novelists, and that fiction writers were in fact abandoning the effort to grapple with ''the grander social and political phenomena of our times'' and were turning instead ''to the construction of wholly imaginary worlds, and to a celebration of the self.''
These remarks -- made even before John F. Kennedy's assassination and the social upheavals of the 60's magnified the surreal quotient of American life -- help illuminate what Tom Wolfe identified (with considerable self-serving hyperbole) in the late 80's as a retreat from realism. They also help explain the direction that Mr. Roth's own fiction has taken over the last three and a half decades, his long obsession with alter egos and mirror games and the transactions between life and art.
June 7, 2007
"American life was becoming so surreal, so stupefying, so maddening, that it had ceased to be a manageable subject for novelists..."
So thought Philip Roth in 1960 -- as reported in a 1997 NYT review of "American Pastoral." (TimesSelect link.)