Sunday, March 15, 2009

Dreaming In Literature: Philip Roth Comes Calling


As soon as I opened my door and saw that it was Philip Roth, the first thought that flashed across my brain wasn't OMG! It's Philip Roth! or Did he do a book tour of Korea and I somehow missed reading about it? No, what came to mind was a panicky: Oh shit...I haven't read American Pastoral yet!
.
I let him in -- him and his little dog, too-- for he was carrying a yappy little white dog. I think it was a Maltese. He said that its name was Daphne. I told him that I once had a dog named Daphne, too. I didn't. I was lying to Philip Roth.
.
Preparing a cup of honey lemon tea and a plate of little dessert cookies for Roth and a dish of water and a plate of canned tuna for Daphne, I really felt the sweat coming on. I've read three or four of Roth's novels, but I've also given up on a couple. I tried to read Portnoy's Complaint back when I was in high school. I was bored by it, and quit. I suspect that some of Portnoy's uh, preoccupations went over my head. In any case, I couldn't relate at 15 or 16. Then, somewhere around 20, I tried to read The Breast, which is a novella about a guy named David -- I think he was a professor, but I'm not sure -- who completely turns into a breast. I hadn't read any Kafka yet, and I thought it was the stupidest and grossest thing I'd ever read in my life. That put me off Roth for years. Even later, I never really could warm up to his writing. But now that he was sitting in my apartment, I couldn't tell him that.
.
I was hoping that Roth would enjoy looking at my shelves, (Larry McMurtry would have!) but no, he wanted to get right to the point. How many of his books had I read and how did I feel about them? Deep breaths. I suddenly had a flash of insight: Everyone wanted to talk to him about Portnoy's Complaint, right? He was probably bored to death by that! Okay, then. I wouldn't mention Portnoy.
.
Pablo...I had to get my bookish buddy Pablo from Gumi on the phone. Last year, he'd been asking me about Roth, and I told him that for me, Roth was like the little girl with the curl, so he asked to borrow what I had, and returned those novels raving with delight. Somehow, Pablo needed to get a train and get here in a hurry. He'd read American Pastoral. After that, he went out and bought Everyman, and was delighted by it. Best of all, Pablo had an English accent. Philip Roth would be impressed.
.
I tried to slip off to the bathroom to call Pablo, but Philip Roth kept talking to me, his dark eyes boring into me over his tea mug and I couldn't manage to politely excuse myself for a couple of seconds. Maybe I could offer to take Daphne for a walk? Philip Roth brusquely told me to sit down. I was screwed. If I dared to bring up Claire Bloom, would he storm out?
.
I stammered out that I had completed four of his books: Goodbye, Columbus, When She Was Good, The Human Stain and The Plot Against America. I decided to dwell on When She Was Good, since hardly anyone ever mentioned that book. But I couldn't remember the details! I couldn't talk about Goodbye, Columbus, either. I hated it; I couldn't imagine how it helped make his literary reputation. Feeling desperate, I was about to ask him if The Plot Against America was going to be made into a movie. My mouth was utterly dry. Then I noticed that Philip Roth was glaring at my copy of American Pastoral. Then he glared at me. Then I woke up.
.
In case this is a recurring dream, I've got to go ahead and read American Pastoral.

14 comments:

Eva said...

You and your dreams! I've only read Everyman, which I *loathed*. But I have The Plot Against American on my shelves, so I'll get to it eventually.

Susan said...

Hysterical laughter from Canada. I haven't read any Roth, so if you felt skewered by his gaze, I'd be less than a bug to him!! what a nightmare. eek. To have an author you don't like come into your dreams! Poor you. Here's a cup of tea and a ginger cookie for your nerves, book-twin.

Bybee said...

Eva,
At least Everyman wasn't too long.

Susan,
Ginger cookie!!! It was worth all that suffering. Is this dream analyze-able?

Anonymous said...

I've only read Everyman, too. I didn't quite loath it but it hasn't actually inspired me to read anything else by Roth.
What a dream!?! Let's see: analyzing... Do you think he is seeking your validation of his work? Does your subconscious (your inner bookworm has that confidence, yes?) think you can teach him something? That he should be intimidated by your critical thinking skills? Yes! You need to visualize what that is so next time he stops by you can reassure him that all he needs to do is ___ and ___ ; then he can feel better about himself.

That'll be 50 cents, please.

Gentle Reader said...

Quick, before he comes back! Read American Pastoral! It's one of his better ones.

Anonymous said...

hello... hapi blogging... have a nice day! just visiting here....

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jeane said...

I always enjoy reading about your literary dreams!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
J.Danger said...

somehow, I missed the title and almost fell out of my seat thinking Phillip Roth actually visited your house!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Claire said...

I haven't read any Roth...I've not heard good things about a few of them and so have just avoided them!

chartroose said...

This is so funny! I'm not a Roth fan: even his best books just don't seem that good, and I've never finished any, except "Goodbye Columbus" (ick).

Maybe if you read "The Human Stain" first and like it, I'll give it a try.

At least you could've dreamed about someone hot, like Johnny Depp. I know the guy doesn't write, but he's fun to look at!

Robin said...

Great dream! You'd better get reading! *Still chuckling*