Friday, September 13, 2013

the last book I ever read (Zuckerman Unbound by Philip Roth, excerpt one)

from Zuckerman Unbound by Philip Roth:

You see, not everybody was delighted by this book that was making Zuckerman a fortune. Plenty of people had already written to tell him off. “For depicting Jews in a peep-show atmosphere of total perversion, for depicting Jews in acts of adultery, exhibitionism, masturbation, sodomy, fetishism, and whoremongery,” somebody with letterhead stationery as impressive as the President’s had even suggested that he “ought to be shot.” And in the spring of 1969 this was no longer just an expression. Vietnam was a slaughterhouse, and off the battlefield as well as on, many Americans had gone berserk. Just about a year before, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy had been gunned down by assassins. Closer to home, a former teacher of Zuckerman’s was still hiding out because a rifle had been fired at him through his kitchen window as he’d been sitting at his table one night with a glass of warm milk and Wodehouse novel. The retired bachelor had taught Middle English at the University of Chicago for thirty-five years. The course had been hard, though not that hard. But a bloody nose wasn’t enough anymore. Blowing people apart seemed to have replaced the roundhouse punch in the daydreams of the aggrieved: only annihilation gave satisfaction that lasted. At the Democratic convention the summer before, hundreds had been beaten with clubs and trampled by horses and thrown through plate-glass windows for offenses against order and decency less grave than Zuckerman’s were thought to be by any number of his correspondents. It didn’t strike Zuckerman as at all unlikely that in a seedy room somewhere the Life cover featuring his face (unmustached) had been tacked up within dart-throwing distance of the bed of some “loner.” Those cover stories were enough of a trial for a writer’s writer friends, let alone for a semi-literate psychopath who might not know about all the good deeds he did at the PEN Club. Oh, Madam, if only you knew the real me! Don’t shoot! I am a serious writer as well as one of the boys!

But it was too late to plead his cause. Behind her rimless spectacles, the powdered zealot’s pale green eyes were glazed with conviction; at point-blank range she had hold of his arm. “Don’t”—she was not young, and it was a struggle for her to catch her breath—“don’t let all that money change you, whoever you may be. Money never made anybody happy. Only He can do that.” And from her Luger-sized purse she removed a picture postcard of Jesus and pressed it into his hand. “’There is not a just man upon earth,’” she reminded him, “’that doeth good and sinneth not. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

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