I finished Philip Roth: The Biography and returned it to the Palm Beach County Library. Adding to what I wrote in my previous post on this massive book (Philip Roth biography: faith in psychotherapy), I am awed by how much work the guy was able to produce despite physical pain that necessitated a lot of opiate/opioid consumption (and that was in the old days, before every American needed a steady supply of opioids).
Roth’s last lover might have been Elizabeth Warren or perhaps one of her cousins:
… Back in May 2006 [when Roth was 73 years old]… helped him find the thirty-three-year-old Kaysie Wimberly [a pseudonym] … the two found each other refreshing and had a good time together. Roth called Kaysie by her childhood nickname, Little Feather (she was part Cherokee) …
As Roth gets older, the sex partners described in the book receive progressively more cash (but possibly this is due to inflation?) and assistance with their own literary careers. But they’re mostly sweet and loyal and many of them reappear when Roth is sick and/or dying. The decisions that Roth came to regret the most, and regarded as his worst choices, were two marriages (the first covered in the previous post). The second was to an actress and was also childless. From page 569:
“She’s behaved abominably about money and I’ve had to pay her off to get rid of her,” Roth wrote his old friend Charlotte Maurer. [a prenuptial agreement did not protect Roth, but resulted only in additional litigation regarding whether it was unconscionable] “She’s hysterical, irrational, deceitful, and, above and beyond everything else, a blameless victim responsible for nothing. The last finally got me down.” … In May, Roth composed the following directive: “To my executors and those planning my burial: It is my strong wish that Claire Bloom be barred from my funeral and from any memorial services arranged for me. All possible measures should be taken to enforce this.”
His ill-advised marriage to Ms. Bloom resulted in Roth’s being denied the Nobel Prize for Literature, according to the biographer and some of the sources. After securing her family court cash, Bloom had trashed Roth in a memoir and that “tainted” Roth’s reputation with various awards committees, including for the Nobel. When Bob Dylan won in 2016, Roth said “It’s okay, but next year I hope Peter, Paul and Mary get it.”
[There is no Oxford comma in the name of this group; Peter and Paul are still alive. Roth’s perspective does not seem to have taken into account that Bloom might have earned the cash that she sought. Living with a somewhat disabled old guy who was on and off a ton of painkillers is no trip to Disney World. And Bloom had a daughter from one of her previous marriages. Stepkids are statistically a big source of conflict and, certainly, Bloom had not concealed the existence of this girl from Roth.]
If Roth was willing to give money to the girlfriends and hated giving money to his family court plaintiffs, he apparently loved helping friends in need. When Veronica Geng was poor, sick, and dying, for example, Roth paid her medical bills and whatever else she needed to be as comfortable as possible. Roth was an important friend and ally (before that word became limited to the 2SLGBTQQIA+) to writers trapped behind the Iron Curtain.
Roth was contemptuous of Twitter (“So everybody’s just shouting, right?”), but eventually adapted to email. He chose to end his life in 2018 rather than accept 3-6 months of additional “life” that would be spent mostly in a hospital bed.
What about his literary legacy? Roth occupies an incredible 9 volumes within the Library of America so we can’t rely on them to pick out the novels that are actually worth reading. Of the ones that I’ve read and can remember, I would pick American Pastoral as the best (a choice also for the great writers Richard Ford and Lorrie Moore and many others quoted in “What Is Philip Roth’s Best Book?” (NYT)). Some of the other serious writers talk about Sabbath’s Theater, Patrimony, The Human Stain, and Nemesis (I can vouch for the last two).
- “Philip Roth Left More Than $2 Million to His Hometown Library in Newark, N.J.” (Wall Street Journal, 10/30/2019): Mr. Roth didn’t leave all of his estate to Newark entities; it couldn’t be learned exactly how he allocated the rest of his money. His will left all of his assets in a trust, which isn’t publicly available. The executor of his estate, Perley H. Grimes, didn’t respond to requests for comment. Mr. Roth did leave “a substantial amount” to the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, said Joel Conarroe, a longtime friend of Mr. Roth and former president of the foundation, which had awarded Mr. Roth a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1959. The royalties from Mr. Roth’s book sales will go to the Guggenheim Foundation, said people with knowledge of Mr. Roth’s bequests. The twice-divorced Mr. Roth, who had no children and was predeceased by his parents and older brother Sandy, also left bequests to friends and other people in his life, friends said. Mr. Roth’s total estate is estimated at about $10 million, according to people with knowledge of his holdings. (Some words are more valuable than others; compare Roth’s lifetime earnings from scribbling to the $137 million that the former Tesla elevator operator who heard the n-word earned in one lawsuit.)