Picks and Pans Review: Zuckerman Unbound

updated 06/15/1981 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/15/1981 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Philip Roth

The good news is that Nathan Zuckerman, the aspiring Jewish novelist of Roth's The Ghost Writer (1979), is back. The bad news is that he's become enormously, sinfully, shamefully successful. Zuckerman's novel of sexual liberation, Carnovsky, has made him a million dollars and "the decade's latest celebrity." Suddenly the bewildered Zuckerman finds himself besieged by fans, bank tellers, meter readers, angry Zionists and a particularly persistent admirer reminiscent of 1950s quiz show contestant Herbert Stempel (who exposed Charles Van Doren). Zuckerman gets an answering service for his unlisted phone, begins riding in limos and even has a one-night stand with a famous actress he takes to Elaine's in Manhattan. Worse, Zuckerman's family is unable to fathom or forgive the use his scandalous book has made of the family's past and the present humiliation it has brought them. Inviting comparison with his own experience after he published Goodbye, Columbus and Portnoy's Complaint, Roth writes here with all his formidable gifts. His mastery of comic hyperbole is particularly deft. (A caller on his answering service flatters him as "The Jewish Charles Dickens.") In the process, he outlines, more passionately than ever, the strains and temptations faced by the artists in our society. This is at once a very funny and a very disturbing book. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $10.95)

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