In his superb American Pastoral, Philip Roth displayed signs of wanting to examine his kind of people in greater philosophic depth: Swede Lermontov, a Newark Jew who has moved to the mink-and-manure belt, finds that his attempts to become an American, freed from his immigrant antecedents and his religion, are tragically foiled. The agent of this failure is his revolutionary daughter Merry, who explodes a bomb that kills an inoffensive local. Roth, in all his overlapping identities and guises, concludes that the America of his generation is an unforgiving place for the immigrant, specifically the Newark Jew with ideas.
Roth returns to the theme. Whereas in American Pastoral his enquiry was sparked by a high-school reunion, here it is sparked by the successful but latterly reclusive writer, Nathan Zuckerman, meeting with his old high-school teacher, Murray Ringold, now ninety. (Very autobiographical, this.) For six nights Murray tells Nathan what