Deception by Philip Roth

There’s something impressive yet still insubstantial in Roth’s work that is at its peak in this very slight book. I’ve read just about everything he wrote, and enjoyed them, but I’ve never been quite convinced by his towering reputation. When people list their pick of the handful of greatest living American writers, he’s always there, but I’m far from persuaded that he’s clearly the superior of (to pick a few I regard more highly who don’t get such mentions at all, that I’ve seen) Hubert Selby Jr or Joyce Carol Oates or Robert Coover.

This is a short novel told, all except a few words, entirely in dialogue, mostly between novelist Philip, explicitly forsaking his Zuckerman avatar, and his mistress. It’s crisply and wittily written, but it’s only at the end, where he piles on the layers of metafiction in addressing how autobiographical this and his other work might be, that I really saw anything that made me smile much here. It’s also not short of self-justifying cheating and disingenuously poor reasoning (especially when it tries to address allegations of misogyny in Roth’s work), though I suppose it’s possible we are supposed to read this novelist called Philip as an unreliable narrator, but this strikes me in the end as a copout, as well as risking making my brain explode (though I usually think that’s a good thing).

So much as I always rather enjoy his work, I’m still at a loss to understand his extraordinarily and apparently unassailably high ranking.