Tuesday, September 17, 2013

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

from Zuckerman Unbound by Philip Roth:

Simple. Because he couldn’t sit complaining to them about becoming the decade’s latest celebrity. Because being a poor misunderstood millionaire is not really a topic that intelligent people can discuss for very long. Not even friends. Least of all friends, and especially when they’re writers. He didn’t want them talking about him talking about his morning with the investment counselor and his night with Caesara O’Shea and how she jilted him for the Revolution. And that was all he could talk about, at least to himself. He was not fit company for anyone he considered a friend. He would get started on all the places where he no longer could show his face without causing a sensation, and soon enough he would make them into enemies. He would get started on the Rollmops King and the gossip columns and the dozen crazy letters a day, and who could listen? He would start talking to them about those suits. Six suits. Three thousand dollars’ worth of suits to sit at home and write in. When he could write naked, if need be; when he could sit there as he always had, in work shirt and chinos, perfectly content. With three thousand dollars he could have bought one hundred pairs of chinos and four hundred work shirts (he’d worked it out). He could buy sixty pairs of Brooks Brothers suede walking shoes of the kind he’d been wearing since he went off to Chicago. He could buy twelve hundred pairs of Interwoven socks (four hundred blue, four hundred brown, four hundred gray). With three thousand dollars he could have clothes himself for life. But instead there were now fittings with Mr. White twice a week, discussions with Mr. White about padding the shoulders and nipping the waist, and who could possibly listen to Zuckerman carrying on about such stuff? He could hardly listen—but, alas, alone with himself, he couldn’t shut up. Better they should think he was in Payne Whitney. Maybe he ought to be. Because there was also the television—couldn’t stop watching. Downtown on Bank Street, all they saw regularly was the news. At seven and again at eleven he and Laura used to sit together in the living room to watch the fires in Vietnam: villages on fire, jungles on fire, Vietnamese on fire. Then they went back to their work on the night shift, she to her draft dodgers, he to his Great Books. During his weeks alone, however, Zuckerman had probably spent more hours by the TV set than in all the years since they had begun to broadcast test patterns back when he was finishing high school. There was little else he could concentrate on, and then there was the strangeness of sitting in your bathrobe on your Oriental rug eating a takeout barbecued chicken and hearing someone suddenly talking about you. He couldn’t get over it. One night a pretty rock singer whom he’d never seen before told Johnny Carson about her one and “Thank God” only date with Nathan Zuckerman. She brought the house down describing the “gear” Zuckerman advised her to wear to dinner if she wanted “to turn him on.” And just the previous Sunday he had watched three therapists sitting in lounge chairs on Channel 5 analyzing his castration complex with the program host. They all agreed that Zuckerman had a lulu. The following morning André’s lawyer had gently to tell him that he couldn’t sue for slander. “Your nuts, Nathan, are now in the public domain.”

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