Tuesday, June 1, 2021

the last book I ever read (Philip Roth: The Biography, excerpt twelve)

from Philip Roth: The Biography by Blake Bailey:

The wholesome hero of Roth’s present book, Seymour “Swede” Levov, had gestated in his imagination for more than twenty years. When Alan Lelchuck informed him, in 1973, that a prominent critic’s daughter had been part of the radical antiwar movement, Roth remarked on “what a novel that might make, to trace the journey of [the critic’s family] through the decade.” For Roth, it was imperative that his own novel’s radical terrorist (a word that didn’t exist in his vocabulary back then) be a daughter rather than a son. Because women protestors in those days weren’t in danger of being drafted and killed, they possessed a kind of ineffable “purity to their rage” that fascinated Roth. And while he was intrigued by the critic’s daughter, his main model for Merry Levov was Kathy Boudin, the daughter of an activist left-wing lawyer whose clients had included Fidel Castro. Roth had met Leonard Boudin at one of the Schneiders’ parties in the sixties, and on March 6, 1970, across the street from the Schneiders, four Weather Underground members had blown up a town house (at 18 West Eleventh Street) while making bombs. Kathy Boudin and a friend staggered away from the rubble and disappeared, while the decapitated torso of Diana Oughton wasn’t found until four days later.

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