Cover image for For Rabbit, with love and squalor : an American read
For Rabbit, with love and squalor : an American read
Roiphe, Anne Richardson, 1935-
Publication Information:
New York : Free Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
222 pages ; 22 cm
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PS3568.O53 Z47 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
PS3568.O53 Z47 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Those who enjoy Roiphe's writings (she has a column in The New York Observer and has written novels and an autobiography) will appreciate this volume of her reminiscences and musings on various well-known classics whose male characters held great meaning for her at certain times of her life, in part as the basis of comparison to the men in her life. Writing in an autobiographical mode, she shares the details of her life story as she remembers Catcher in the Rye, Tender is the Night, For Whom the Bell Tolls, the works of John Updike and Philip Roth, and Maurice Sendak. Annotation copyrighted by Book News Inc., Portland, OR

Author Notes

Anne Roiphe is the author of several books, including the acclaimed Up the Sandbox!, Lovingkindness, and Fruitful: A Real Mother in the Modern World, which was nominated for the 1996 National Book Award, as well as a memoir, 1185 Park Avenue. Her articles and reviews have appeared in Vogue, Redbook, Glamour, Working Woman, and Family Circle, and she writes a biweekly column for The New York Observer. She lives in New York City

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Roiphe, a precise and forceful writer, has established her Jewish, feminist, and intellectual bona fides in her earlier works, and now presents an electrifying paean to twentieth-century American literary heroes. Combining personal anecdotes with incisive cultural and literary analysis, she remembers 1951, when she turned 16 and read the newly published The Catcher in the Rye. She explains why Holden Caulfield became her first literary love and blames him for her doomed first marriage. Robert Jordan, Hemingway's hero in For Whom the Bell Tolls, elicits an exhilarating tribute to the strong, silent type, which segues into praise for her second husband. Fitzgerald's Dick Diver provokes a shrewd consideration of the ethos of failure. Then Roiphe really lets loose in her canny appreciation of two heroes who exemplify the conflicts inherent in postwar American maleness: John Updike's Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom and Philip Roth's Nathan Zuckerman. Each hero serves as a catalyst for musings on society's changing attitudes toward sex, marriage, misogyny, and anti-Semitism over the past five decades as Roiphe celebrates the glorious complexity of human sexuality, and the ever-evolving role literature plays in our conceptions of romance, morality, and love. Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Roiphe, a New York memoirist and novelist with a special interest in women's experiences (1185 Park Avenue; Fruitful: Living Contradictions: A Memoir of Modern Motherhood, etc.) has hit upon a clever organizing principle for these seven essays: recollections of literary love affairs with famous male protagonists from recent American literature. Roiphe writes of how these seemingly real characters have permanently affected her understanding of men, relationships and love, from her adolescence to her middle age. As she makes her way through her favorite novels, offering insights from the literary to the confessional, we see how her reading experiences parallel her personal life. In a particularly emotional chapter on John Updike's Rabbit, Roiphe, against her better judgment, confesses her love for such a flawed, immature, yet winning man: "I understand perfectly well that Rabbit is a stand-in for America's failure of moral courage... I know that he and his friends are vulgar, uneducated bigoted provincials... Still. Who could resist loving Rabbit? Not me." Roiphe makes a significant contribution to the growing field of "subjective literary criticism." She also opens up a subject that has been underexamined: the sexual/relationship fantasies of heterosexual women about male characters (traditionally, scholarly focus has been on male obsession with imagined females). The author also touches on how her Jewish identity factors into her fantasies about (and anticipated rejection by) certain male characters, such as Philip Roth's Nathan Zuckerman. Roiphe writes that "the book was enormous fun to write"; any woman reader who has ever fallen in love with a fictional male (that is, just about every female reader of fiction) will find it enormous fun to read. Author tour. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In this new work, Roiphe (Fruitful: My Life as a Modern Mother) has done nothing less than invent a lively and original form of literary criticism. She takes a series of male characters from American fiction, contrasts how she originally read them with how she rereads them now, fantasizes about encounters with them, argues with them, ties her own experience to theirs, and reflects on how and why she loves them. Roiphe begins with J.D. Salinger's Holden CaulfieldDCatcher in the Rye was published when she was in high schoolDand moves through Ernest Hemingway's Robert Jordan, F. Scott Fitzgerald's Dick Diver, John Updike's Rabbit, Philip Roth's Nathan Zuckerman, and Richard Ford's Frank Bascombe. With each character and author, she reveals herself to be an active reader, sensitive but probing, unwilling to let either get away with anything. She concludes with a surprise: a short chapter on Maurice Sendak's Max and Mickey, which, believe it or not, ties up the rest of the book. Recommended for public and academic libraries.DMary Paumier Jones, Westminster P.L., CO (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter Five Nathan Zuckerman Philip Roth's The Ghost Writer, The Anatomy Lesson, Zuckerman Unbound, and The Counterlife Slouching toward Newark. I have your number Nathan Zuckerman. I know that Philip Roth is your alter ego. I know how you roar and rage and suffer from migraines and back pain and neck pain and how the anti-Semites attack you at dinner parties and hit cotton balls at your nose while you're typing and I know that your enemies include Milton Appel, a.k.a. Irving Howe, certain members of the Mossad, an ex-wife with a mannish walk and a psychotic's rage whom you called Maureen, or Lydia, Alvin Pepler of quiz show nonfame, jealous folk and rejected lovers, ex-fans and lunatic letter writers, and I know that at one point the rabbis in America were denouncing you from their high holiday pulpits for writing a book called Carnovsky, a.k.a. (in your work even books have alter books) Portnoy's Complaint, and now in your maturity, if we can call it that, you get Jewish prize after prize so once again you are the adored, if slightly shopworn, glistening boychick of your childhood. Newark. I know more about the once-dreamy nostalgia-reeking streets of hard-working families, now replaced by blaring radios, peeling paint, and folks who use food stamps, than seems exactly necessary. I know about Newark even when it pretends to be Camden or Yonkers. I know about your hectoring and hocking father, beloved yes, guiltily beloved, ambivalently beloved, like a Woody Allen dream about the local Cronus and Zeus, Oedipus and Jocasta. I know about your mother, perfection itself, Mrs. Zuckerbird, whistling songs while she patiently goes about her housewifely chores. I know that you asked Sharon Shatsky to put a zucchini up her cunt. I know that you did wild things with more than one WASP from a horsey family, with an Asian hair loss specialist, with actresses and waitresses, Polish refugees, a human rights activist, students from Racine and Rochester, girls at Pembroke and Sarah Lawrence, and city girls and girls in log cabins. In fact I'm worried that just reading you I may have contracted a sexually transmitted disease. I have known you most of my adult life. I could have been your sister, a fate that would surely have been worse than my own. I could never have been your wife or lover, not even in passing, not on a ship or on a plane, or in a foreign city (forgive the Green Eggs and Ham allusion), because I am the very Jewish girl you are running from. Your mother would have liked me: kiss of death, I know. Also I have coarse hair (like Joanie, the sister of your alter ego Peter Tarnopol) and while unlike her my nose and chin might pass your inspection, did not require surgery or massive electrolysis, something less than Aryan in my looks would have made you, once you got out in the world, stare right through me as though I were a pane of glass. I too, like Joanie, am hairy and dark and in this fact you would have read that I had no Druid ancestors, had no Swedish genes, no cornsilk prairie-traveled grandparents, did not fit the one and only ideal of beauty that Hollywood and Vogue assumed was IT, the whole of it in those benighted fifties when both of us began our erotic journey. You would have found me (the winds of the fertile crescent kinked my hair and made my smile slightly buck-toothed, even after orthodonture, open as a leaky faucet, exposing gum disease and crawling with emotions that sprawl and surge, refuse like my hair to stay in place, learn their place) less than inviting. I know that pre- or postnubile or menopausal I could never have possessed the erotic charm that you desired, the royal road to America's heartland. It was, this goy search, a kind of ethnic cross-dressing, free miles, first class on the flight to the real America which, wherever it was located, was not in your neighborhood, that doomed our romance before it could begin. Years ago your scorn would have hurt my feelings but now I think you're entitled, good luck to you, I understand or at least will try to. I knew a primal horde of Jewish guys like you who looked over my shoulder at the blonde from Wisconsin with the Big Sky eyes and the nose so small you wondered how the air got in. It was a cliché almost, the guys on the lookout for someone with a tribal history that didn't make you weep. When I was seventeen I worked as an apprentice at a summer theater in Connecticut. I fell in love with the twenty-two-year-old production manager whose name was Ed Doctorow, soon to become a colleague of yours. He came from a left-leaning Jewish family in the Bronx. He had a Jewish nose himself and big tragic eyes with bags hanging under them. He ignored me and attached himself to one pale-haired, blank, bleached-out starlet after another. "Look at me," I wanted to cry. "I am your soulmate. I can talk up a storm just like you. I am reading Rilke. I am your proper mate." He ended up marrying the daughter of a minister and living happily ever after. You too, Nathan, you would have enjoyed me if only you could have lusted for me. All right I did it too, so I can't blame you. I admit it. What I fell for in my first husband was the Scotch and Irish blend, the sniff of England's green and emerald isle, the odor of Shakespeare and Thackeray blended with the master of the plantation wandering ragged and stunned, whiskey and musket in hand, through the hills of Mississippi or some romance like that which proved folly and futile, form instead of substance, leaving in my mouth the bitter taste of rue and shame. You are off on a dangerous outward-bound American journey, charting new territory, urgently looking for the promised heartland and like a pedlar with his wares in a sack, you drag most of your childhood home around with you. It's a wonder you can move at all carrying all that baggage. You write about escape, about going off to college, about famous actors and writers and politicians. But of course you keep writing about home, about Newark Jews, Newark baseball teams, your mom, your pop, your old girlfriends. You know your past (thank you Dr. Spielvogel, whose real name I happen to know because everyone in New York knew), and you are still condemned to repeat it, at least on the page. This is the strangest Houdini act in all of literature. You manage to get back into your chains time and time again. But you wanted, how sincerely, how urgently to get away, the exact psychological, social, physical place on the planet that would locate you as far from me as the mind can travel and while my amour propre suffers, my brain accepts it. Go friend, ironist, searcher, moralist, soulmate: clown around on some other girl's time. I get into a cab on Manhattan's Upper West Side and a loud, pushy recorded voice jangles in my ear. It's borscht belt, hatchet-job-on-the-English-sentence, no-nuances-need-apply Jackie Mason reminding me to wear my seat belt. I bend my head back as if there were a way to escape that scraping shoving comedian's rasping riff. I think of Nathan Zuckerman. Even though Nathan went to college at Bass-Bucknell, graduate school at Chicago, studied Joyce, T. S. Eliot, and Milton, irony and the objective correlative, and Jackie is straight from the shvitz baths, tap-dancing his way out of a steamy kitchen -- more schmaltz than beurre noir -- Mason and Roth are both fiddlers on our not so solid roof, a roof they come crashing through. There's a joke in there but who's it on? Who wants to laugh? Nathan Zuckerman has spent his entire working life hip deep slogging through the mud of his relationship to the Jewish community, to Jews everywhere, to anti-Semites, to Jewish anti-Semites, to Wasps as they relate to Jews, to Jews as they relate to middle Europeans. Everywhere, on almost every page, boils his Jewish response, his irritation with his brethren, his desire to flee them in the shape of the shiksa, and above all else his compelling need to criticize them, point out all their most shameful flaws, to chastise them, to scold them, to defend them, to woo them. Nathan is a biblical prophet turned jokester, turned vaudevillian, the master of the pratfall, the prodigal son returned sort of, never left in fact. Nathan is our Jonah sent on a journey to Nineveh to remind us that our manners are bad, our class less than upper, our morality suspect, our interest in worldly goods positively shocking, our madness endless. He is right of course and that's why, if only belatedly, he's become beloved of the Jewish people. Zuckerman did not suffer weeks of starvation and he did not wear sackcloth or sojourn in the barren desert exactly like Jonah, but he did have back pains and breakdowns and a bypass operation. He had divorces and breakups and betrayals. Exactly what you'd expect for an American prophet. Jews prize persistence. Nathan's role as chastiser, conscience, corrector of the Jewish error began with one of his earliest alter egos, Ozzie. The short story "The Conversion of the Jews" was written in Nathan's first burst of adulthood. It was written before it was clear to him and all the rest of the world what his role would be in America, what kind of a prophet shouting from rooftops he would be, and the wet-behind-the-ears author himself, entertaining us, could have had no idea that this little story foretold the author's own future far more surely than the lines in your palm, or the tea leaves at the bottom of your cup. Ozzie is at Hebrew school and he asks the rabbi why it is that if God could create the world in seven days, a miracle surely, he could not have equally easily arranged the Virgin Birth. The rabbi yells at him, punishes him, refuses to answer him. Another child, one who was not Nathan Zuckerman's alter ego, would have backed off, ducked down, chilled out. Ozzie, like his creator, had no intention of letting the rabbi get away with the sloppy brain work, the ideological formulas that he was trying to feed his students. He climbs up to the roof of the Hebrew school, the irate rabbi running after him, and he threatens to jump if the rabbi doesn't take back his words. Soon a mob gathers, including Ozzie's mother, and the little boy addressing the reluctant and anxious Jewish crowd below, now (and not for the last time) the focus of everyone's attention, insists that all gathered admit that the Virgin Birth was indeed possible, as possible as any other of God's miracles. Smart Ozzie, smarter obviously than the other kids, smarter than the rabbi, than his well-meaning mother, sees through the hypocritical bias of the not-so-well-educated New Jersey rabbi. Smart Ozzie tells the world what he knows and manages to get everyone's eye focused on him while he harangues them and forces them to acknowledge his rightness and the rabbi's wrongness. Jonah at Nineveh yes -- but not so reluctant as Jonah, this little prophet in training is clearly enjoying himself. This Ozzie is clearly the small kid version of Nathan, of Portnoy, the critic of the community, the hero the rabbi wants to smack, who takes his revenge by very publicly humiliating the rabbi. Here amazingly enough lies the scenario for the next forty years of Nathan's life. The rabbi chasing him up the stairs. The writer hero, forcing the world to pay attention, to recant its simplistic views. All that's missing from this early story is the pain little Ozzie would experience being grown-up Nathan: also missing the buckets of tears and semen tossed from that metaphorical roof, enough to cause another flood if God hadn't promised that he wouldn't, not again. The subject of the disagreement between Ozzie and the rabbi is not so slight as it might seem. The dispute between rabbi and boy is over a crucial matter, crucial to the heart and soul: the survival of the Jewish people. In other words it's a joke that's no joke. The rabbi is trying to preserve the specialness and uniqueness and rightness of Jewish monotheism, a faith that allows for no trinity, crucified sons, or pierced-arrow saints. But what the rabbi is up to has far less to do with theology than one might think. He's actually digging a ditch, an unjumpable ditch between the outside world, America, and his people. The rabbi's intention is to fence his young charges into a theological system that would permanently separate and define them as different from their Christian neighbors. Ozzie isn't having any. The information the rabbi gives to the children is that we are right and they are wrong. We define ourselves as Jews by not believing in God in triplicate. Those who do are simply declared wrong and placed on the other side of a rising wall. The wall is the real point of the lesson. The us and them are written on the young brain as an absolute, as a warning, as a dangerous electrified fence that must not be climbed. This is the way Jews stay together, and this is the way group pride tinged with moral superiority supports the persecuted Jew with his terrible history. Sometimes anti-Semitism alone suffices to keep the Jews together, but just in case the Cossacks sleep in their barns for a generation or two, the message of difference passed on to Jewish children is intended to bind them together, to keep them from straying. The Jew who might wander off is no laughing matter to those who have taken it upon themselves to shepherd the flock, to keep the wolves away, to lead the people toward whatever may await them over the next hill. The religious purpose of Jews is not only in theological conviction but is contained and hallowed in the commandment to stay the course, hang on to history's tail no matter how bumpy or dangerous the ride becomes. Ozzie's raised his voice to ask: What is so logical about the Jewish view as compared with the Christian view? This question is a more fearful heresy than that of the little boy who notices that the emperor has no clothes, and a lot more dangerous to the empire. America -- Ozzie's, Nathan's, mine -- was such an inviting temptation, was everywhere around us. Fourscore and seven years ago, these truths we hold self-evident, Ben Franklin, Abe, Grant, Custer, the Wild West, Lewis and Clark, the Donner party chomping on each other, Roosevelts, Teddy and FDR, the Andrews Sisters, Frank Sinatra, Mae West, the Inner Sanctum, the Lone Ranger, the Brooklyn Dodgers, Dr. Christian, the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, the Giants, the White Sox, the ballet, the opera, the Metropolitan Museum, the dinosaur bones in the Museum of Natural History, the Planetarium, Carnegie Hall, the Marx brothers (they were Jewish but who cared) -- there it was, the whole inviting canvas. America might still have quotas for college admissions but a smart kid could triumph and break down the resistance and out there, where Lana Turner and Ingrid Bergman beckoned, out there in America, staying in the Jewish fold was optional and for those without a desire to commune with God, it was all too easy to let God go his own way without you. Freedom, this is what America was about or so they kept saying in our American schools. Freedom is what the war was fought over, freedom was ours for the taking. Freedom meant the right to move away, to go anywhere you want, to be anything you could. Freedom did not mean staying in the neighborhood, freedom did not mean being boxed in. Don't fence me in, the song went. Fencing in is what the rabbi was trying to do when he wanted to smack Ozzie for suggesting that the Virgin Birth was a logical possibility. Ozzie, the young American, wants to climb the wall, find the thing in common with the Christian view. They could be right after all; logic does not rule out the possibility of Christian truth. Ozzie wants to get into America and be one with his country and the rabbi wants him to stay put, stay with his kind. This is a battle that Nathan takes to heart, so much to heart that he wages it, all sides of it, in book after book for the next thirty years. And while we can see the budding exhibitionist in Ozzie and we can see how impossible, what a bother, a purist, a moralist, self-righteous down to his toes, he would be as a friend or a son or a student, we nevertheless laugh at his wit and his nerve and see how he is persecuted for being right, chastised for saying the truth, sympathize with his brave little soul trying to keep its light shining in a world that wants to shut us all up, keep us in place, if we see differently or further than the guy sitting in the seat next to us. We can't help noticing that show-off or not, Ozzie's got a hold of a real problem, and he passed it on to Zuckerman. We can also notice the budding paranoia in the plot of the story. We see the enemies who would actually smack you, turn your very own mother against you, mark you out, enemies we will encounter again and again as Nathan grows older and gets into ever hotter and hotter water. The enemies list grows by leaps and bounds -- the mothers of girlfriends, the frothing-at-the-mouth wife, the state of New York with its arcane divorce laws refusing to free Nathan or Peter from horrid Lydia, Maureen. The meanness of critics, the plague of fans who would pursue and invade privacy, the fear of terrorists, the Mossad that misunderstands the most benign of gestures, the brothers, older or younger, Henry or Sandy or Mo who don't approve. The physical pain in the neck, the physical pain in the head, the migraines, the ache in the heart, the women who want children or marriage or grow boring and follow a man around threatening suicide, taking pills, making it hard to disengage, or the beautiful Irish actress who uses our Nathan as one might a male stripper instead of allowing him to use her as a symbol of the stranger, the powerful lure of the exotic. We can see the paranoid Zuckerman looking over his shoulder, afraid he will be shot like Lennon by a loving or hating fan, the hiding out, the mark of a marked man that seemed carved into Nathan's forehead, our Abel mistaken for Cain, oh cruel and misunderstanding world. But noticing that does not change the fact that the Jewish communal heartburn has been well outlined by Nathan Zuckerman, perfectly outlined, not solved but exposed, not coddled or turned into comforting rhetoric but examined, poked, prodded until the patient goes numb, the numbness itself a new symptom to report. The fact is that Nathan never escaped, never became free of his Jewishness, not that he was religious, tradition never grabbed him, not a praying kind, too much of the Enlightenment absorbed on childhood's ball fields, but Jewish oh yes, it remained the subject, the angel he was fighting on his ladder, book after book. In a very real sense the rabbi runs in perpetuity up those stairs long after Ozzie won the argument. Ozzie could stand on the roof and force the Jewish crowd to agree that possibly Mary was a virgin but he could not get down off that roof, end the argument, and go about his business. He's stuck up there and not just because he's a character in a story, but because the terrible truth is that we're all stuck with the problem -- rephrased for the time being as "identity politics." Woody Allen too is mired in the muck of his Jewish shtick and never more than when he courts Annie Hall, Diane Keaton or Mia, and Soon Yi. Note the strange coincidence that Zuckerman himself got involved with Moonie, the sixteen-year-old daughter of Lydia, and after Lydia kills herself he takes girl-child Moonie to Italy, the land of the Renaissance as well as Thomas Mann's sexually crossed borders, broken taboos, imagination. Surely these two comedians did not get together and plan their respective scandals but while one is real only in the imagination and the other only the "truth that is stranger than," perhaps these escapes from generational boundaries, ethnic confines reveal the common salacious dreams of Jewish comedians. They remind us that artists really are hell bent on turning upside down our moral order. A man with his wife's daughter crosses the normative oedipal boundaries and just as Zuckerman claimed he did, the sinner puts the id back in Yid. Anyone who thinks slapstick is just slapstick is going to get a metaphorical thumb slammed in the door. The balance, a nice, civilized, nonhysterical balance between the particular and the universal, the group loyalty and the general pool of humanity, is no easier to strike today than it was yesterday. We flap our arms in the air, but our feet still stay in the mud. Religion itself with its rules and its manners and its demands and its traditions, beautiful as they may be, rarely makes young inquiring minds burn with excitement, not like Proust or Einstein or Freud or Lacan or Alan Greenspan or Bill Gates. Jews are waltzing with modernity but on very thin ice. That's what Nathan says and I agree with him. What is it exactly that young Nathan and young Portnoy objected to about the Jewish way of living in America? The materialism yes, the sort of unthinking show-offness of property and goods that Nathan thought was Jewish but was probably just American, a common facet of all immigrant groups new to a little ease and tipsy with spending too much on pink taffeta sofas and tennis lessons. What Nathan wanted was to be upper class, correct in enunciation of consonants and vowels, universal in knowledge, classy as Park Avenue white shoe, American as the steel workers in Pittsburgh and the denizens of Dairy Queens in towns with granaries. Nathan wanted to be as unlike his daddy the hat or shoe salesman as he could be (no matter how many paeans he writes about his father, he himself planned on being the cream rising to the top), unlike daddy, the chiropodist, the dentist, the eighth-grade dropout, the insurance salesman, who all shared the same not-so-high rank in the class system that Nathan, absorbing its particulars with his milk, was intending to ace with one master stroke. I felt the bite of the unspoken American class system too. I envied friends with oriental rugs on the floor, with mothers who had gone to Vassar and fathers who belonged to restricted clubs. The Jews of the forties and fifties who were exposed and permitted into Christian America felt that upper class was a very desirable state of being. Katie Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story was no snob, which is exactly why we wanted to be Katie Hepburn, have both egalitarian ideals and an upper-crust accent and a boat and a life that was very yare (spare but elegant) and still be a Democrat. Leon Uris's Exodus may have been sailing heroically toward Israel but many American Jews jumped overboard, the bright and the restless, the skeptical and the funny, the smart alecks and the ambitious, the intellectuals and the social climbers. Me too. How easily most found ways around the gentleman's agreements that blocked their way. Of course there were Jewish homes in which Friday night candles welcomed in the Sabbath queen and the sons went on to become Torah scholars like their grandfathers before them. There were Jewish homes, Nathan, maybe the family in the apartment upstairs, in which the love for learning was not directed toward the American university but rather to the yeshiva, and there were many Jews who continued to pray long after their bar mitzvahs and grew up to join synagogues or till the soil on kibbutzim in the Galilee and others even in their affluence and success had no desire to mingle their semen with the most goyishe girl or boy they could find. In Ozzie's classroom only Ozzie made a scene about the possibility of the Virgin Birth, but he wasn't alone, hardly. There is another paradox in this flight, this pell-mell headlong American meltdown in the pot we once thought of as a delicious and desirable stew. The child was not only free in this big country but was simultaneously kept on a leash. The leash could easily be yanked and yanked hard. The Holocaust was just such a pull on the neck. The facts of the Holocaust reminded Jewish children in America that they survived by luck, that their interests lay with their group, that they could stray but they could be rounded up and exterminated. Moreover it cast the others, the strangers, as killers, as haters, as immoral bystanders indifferent to the fate of the Jews. The result was a bonding, a welding of soul to identity, a shock that kept on shocking. So when Nathan in The Ghost Writer imagines that the girl student the writer Lonoff (Malamud, believe me I know) is housing and bedding is in fact Anne Frank and that he might woo her himself and bring her home to his folks to prove his Jewish bona fides, to erase any scandal he may have created in his first stories, we have not only a wonderful grim joke but a brilliant recognition of the truth: the Holocaust, what we know of the Holocaust, makes us Jewish. Escape plans be damned, we are one with the dead and lose some of our otherwise robust appetite to dine with the American commonality. Anne Frank, a writer like Nathan, is the most kosher of Jewish girls, the anti-shiksa of all time. Nathan who expresses his loyalties and troubles through his romantic entanglements can sleep with whomever he pleases and he does and yet he remains the Jewish son, the Jewish comedian, the Jewish identity pushing him around even when its God focus is absolutely gone missing, even when or especially when he is accused by some rabbis at a yeshiva event on minority writers of treason. It's all very well to speak of freedom to invent yourself in America, and that is true enough as far as it goes but there is guilt that follows. There is the son's guilt at gaining an education that leaves the father behind in the dust. There is the guilt of leaving the people and embracing the stranger. From the first moments of conscious thought, the Jewish child is instructed in a we-them, in a history of what has been done to and what injustice has prevailed and this is not a myth that can be shaken off and walked away from. It is all true. After the very first steps up the mystical ladder of Jewish history, there is no way to back down. To betray, to expose to harm, to commit treason against this historical winding, this pilgrimage to something that will make a point, religious or secular, someday in some generation, is unforgivable. Guilt, terrible guilt, follows this accusation. I know. It happened to me once and I really thought I deserved death. I wrote something in the newspaper about being a secular Jew. A Holocaust survivor called the house and accused me of betraying the dead. Distinguished rabbis wrote letters of outrage to the paper. What are you, you empty, traditionless airhead, historyless soul without color or memory? I could not go on as I had been, not because someone was mad at me but because the indictment was so astonishingly wounding. Why I cared, why Nathan cared, what is the tissue meld of Jew to the Jewish story is hard to explain rationally, but it burns and burns within me still. I understand how Nathan Zuckerman on reading Judge Waptor's letter attacking him for his short stories and accusing him of drawing Jewish blood felt he needed to bring home no less a figure than Anne Frank to redeem himself, to be publicly acquitted of this terrible charge. The glue that keeps a Jewish child Jewish is a crazy glue indeed but effective. When Nathan in The Anatomy Lesson, suffering from acute back pain, addicted to Percodan and other painkillers, goes to Chicago to fulfill every Jewish mother's dream and turn himself belatedly into a doctor, he attacks an old man in a cemetery because the old man complaining about his drug-addicted adopted grandson has implied that the boy has no brains because he isn't Jewish by blood. This old man's prejudice, this clannishness, this assumed racial superiority so infuriates Nathan that he goes berserk -- Percodan berserk to be sure -- and ends up breaking his own jaw, puncturing his tongue, and knocking out his own teeth. As he chases Mr. Freytag he rails against "our genes, our sacred little packet of Jewish sugars." Zuckerman doesn't believe in Jewish genes and yet he does. If he didn't he wouldn't be so outraged. Caught between his belief in the universal and his unwilling attachment to the particular, Nathan howls and tries to strangle his friend's mourning father. What makes Nathan so angry is not simply the old man's clan loyalty and somewhat simple-minded superiority to others; it is the attempt once again to make Nathan a co-conspirator in this Jewish separation from humanity. The result of Nathan's fury is only to harm himself, and in the mouth no less, which in his case is both his means of escape and the offending organ. Remember how Seymour Glass with a gun in his mouth killed himself. Nathan doesn't think God has it in for him for his blasphemy. He just punishes himself for his failed run out, for his lack of group loyalty, for his American-nurtured yearning to be himself and not his ancestors. Religious belief may have been diluted to the disappearing point, but a harsh unforgiving guilt-provoked unease continues to assault Nathan in book after book. The wiring of Zuckerman's jaw, the painful back, the whole array of physical and psychological pains that fall on Nathan's head, are punishment for sure, a punishment for his success, a punishment for his betrayal of his family in books, a punishment for his ridicule of the Jewish community. Certainly Nathan knows how to torture himself, pay himself back. He is his own scapegoat -- judge, jury and prisoner wrapped up in one package. Nathan becomes a tragic guilt-ridden clown. Here is the heart of the problem. I know this problem in my bones. As a girl wearing my first garter belt, I seethed when my mother would look for the Jewish names in the obituary column as if the dead were more worthy if they were one of us. I hated it when my brother would identify the names of Jewish athletes and Jewish judges and Jewish politicians as if their Jewishness were the significant marker of their days. I too, like Nathan, wanted to be just an American. I too discovered that it can't be done. The fictitious hypothetical unhyphenated is without a shape, a color, emptied of past and flat as a sheet, a winding sheet at that. It leads one's children to don orange robes and beg for change at airports. This tie to the group, even if it has boiled down to a mere sentimental gesture, only a secular tie, an ethnic joke, seems almost magical -- an idea, an attitude, a politics, a loyalty that drives one quite mad with its unwillingness to fade, with its intrusion on the better impulses toward universal humanity. So we are condemned to race and clan and origins. No matter the color or stripe or religion of whomever we may marry or befriend, the Jewish connection follows us around like our shadows. (Peter Pan may have been the only character in all of time to have been severed from his shadow, and he had to have it sewn back on.) * * * * Nathan Zuckerman and I meet at long last. Where else but in Miami? We are old but not altogether out of it. We are on the patio of the Fontainebleau, the warm breeze is sweet. At each of the cocktail tables a coconut lies split open and planted in its flesh a pink candle flickers. The centerpiece is surrounded by red hibiscus, stamen and pollen throbbing in the night air. I am alone and widowed, and he is with a woman much younger than he is, a Dominican woman with long neck, short cropped hair, she wears golden sandals and a diamond on the side of her nose. She is a poet who has won prizes, whose smooth beige skin deepens in color as she shifts positions at the table we share and her teeth are so white, I wonder if they are real. Mine are the color of a wedding dress kept in a trunk for generations. Also for the record my hair is white and I am plump, matronly, motherly perhaps, thick and slow. I listen to the music from the band and wish I could still dance. My dancing days are over except in certain dreams when I am dancing nude on a platform suspended above a football field that usually collapses, waking me up in a fine sweat. We are in Miami, staying at the Fontainebleau at a writers' conference on the future of the Jewish writer. It's been almost sixty years since Nathan Zuckerman published his first stories, and we are still discussing the future of the Jewish writer. The future has come and gone several times over but here we are, a junket in winter, an adventure at a time of life when adventures are more likely to end up in emergency rooms than at dinner tables by the turquoise sea. I am a journalist still. Nathan Zuckerman is a famous man and very private. His shoulders are hunched as if someone even in this warm place might be throwing an icy snowball at his back and he glares around the patio with a wry bitter twist to his smile. He glows hot like a skinny piece of coal down at the bottom of the fire. His left hand shakes as he reaches for his wine glass. Nathan is in his eighties and I am approaching mine. We are geriatric and cranky. I can see that in him as he absentmindedly pulls on the strapless back of the poet's dress, exposing more of her fine straight spine to the open air, to the touch of his wandering fingers. Damn him. Across the table I feel his energy, as if a tornado had plunked itself in a chair opposite me and was spinning in place, daring me to invite it closer. Damn him. I resist the urge to point out that the blonde fair-skinned women who once represented American beauty to him and an escape from familiarity, from the nostalgically beloved but nevertheless-to-be-avoided Newark of his childhood, those women had wrinkled early, gotten skin cancers on the bridges of their perfect unbumped noses, and here I was, knowing well that Nathan Zuckerman, prizes and all, suffers from a paranoid need for attention and a simultaneous fear of his fans, an addiction to being famous that makes him want to kick the lesser souls who seek him out. If, by my age, I give Nathan Zuckerman (even in my imagination) the time of day, I'm living proof that life is wasted on the elderly. Of course his lack of staying power, his sudden veering toward indepen-dence or freedom, toward discovering boredom in the bosom of the lady he had just a moment before found dazzling, this quality doesn't matter anymore -- at our point in the life cycle. I raise my glass to him, "To Nathan who has proved that fiction is truth and truth is only odoriferous laundry gathering in a hamper in the basement of the mind." He looks at me, offended but not entirely, interested but wary. He is not averse to a compliment, but were my words mocking or sincere? I have him off balance. His eyes glitter. The torches at the edge of the patio throw a red light on the top of his head where the scalp has been liberated of hair. He is hard, tender toward himself naturally, but protected against strangers, even fellow writers, perhaps especially fellow writers who might want a favor, a quote, an introduction to an editor or an agent. Even now, when most of the chips have been played, he's not looking to be a Good Samaritan. The protective shell, the you-can-go-so-far-but-no-further-with-me aura that he throws off, the antinurturing, I-don't-feed-baby-birds-with-eye-droppers look is simultaneously repellent and attractive. I know better but it always charms me. I can tell a man who will take all the covers, keep his accounts separate, tally all your defects and hold them against you, from a mile away, never mind across the table. Such men are not puppies to take home but mastiffs sniffing around the garbage cans, with hard muscular legs, drooling jaws, and a propensity to bite the hand that feeds them. Why that makes them attractive to the average female including me is a mystery still in search of a good detective. At the panel discussion in the afternoon, a young man had risen to ask Nathan if there were any Jewish writers of the younger generation he admired. "No," he had answered. Did he see a future then for the role of the Jew in American literature? "No," he had said. There was silence in the room, the answer was not the one the assembled wanted to hear. Just no, nothing else? said the questioner. "Why do you believe that?" the questioner persisted. "What would it be for?" Nathan had shrugged. "Who needs it?" he added. Old men always think that everything dies with them, I thought. But Nathan was right, the glorious burst, the Malamud-Bellow-Roth comet in the sky has descended. Let us have a moment of silence. But at a writers' meeting there are no moments of silence. The blue room in the Fontainebleau's second floor with its gold-leafed chairs and its glass windows that overlook the bathers on the beach erupts in disagreement. At the table I ask Nathan's Dominican poet if she feels a kinship with the Jewish experience. She looks at me as if I were dotty. That was not the right question. I am trying to think up a better one when I notice a commotion at the hors d'oeuvre table. The musicians have stopped playing. There is the sound of firecrackers behind me. I look back and see five masked figures in black jeans and T-shirts holding rifles feet apart standing guard while another of their group is engaged in extinguishing the decorative torches around the patio's edge. Darkness creeps toward us. There is a nervous laugh from the table next to ours. A woman in a short red dress and high spiky heels gets up casually as if she is going to the ladies' room to powder her nose. A masked figure approaches her and pushes her back into her seat. "Nobody move," a shout from the figure. Nobody moves. A waiter picks up a tray with water glasses on it. Drop it, the voice says, and the waiter drops the tray and there is a sound of breaking glass across the floor and ice cubes scatter and one hits my foot. Nathan looks frightened. It makes me sad to see that nervous twitch at the corner of his mouth. "Don't worry," I whisper to him, "inside the hotel they will call the police. We'll be rescued soon." Nathan glares at me; he doesn't like it that I saw his fear. The Dominican poet has gone stony-faced. She is sinking down in her chair so as not to seem so tall, so imperious, so conspicuous. All around us are masked men, maybe twenty maybe more. Over on the path leading to the water I see more men carrying guns. On top of the lifeguard's perch there is another with a huge gun that looks at this distance like an octopus. Tentacles of bullets writhe above the sand. Who are they? What do they want? I take a sip of my wine. Nathan says, "I didn't want to come to Florida. I knew this conference would work like flypaper for fucking maniacs." We talk under our breaths, murmuring really. The masked men have us caught in a circle now. The door to the kitchen opens on the side of the main building. I see the chefs in their white aprons, I see a long line of chrome pots, I see the flame burning low on a restaurant stove, and I see the masked men, flashing their guns, running up and down the aisles of the kitchen. The musicians are on the ground face down, the waiters are on the ground face down. The Irish-American short story writer is trying to show one of the masked men the pictures of his children. I saw those pictures at breakfast, tow-headed boys and a little girl blowing bubbles. The masked man takes his pictures and rips them up, letting the pieces fall into the wine glass. So much for his family values. "Who are they?" I ask Nathan. "Critics," he says. "Readers," I answer. "Rabbi critics," he says. "Muslims," I offer. The Dominican poet lashes out at me. "Racist," she hisses. Was it racist of me to think of Arabs under the circumstances? "Right-wing Cubans," I say. Nathan says, "Colombian drug dealers demanding funding for their literary journal." We wait. The man who seemed to be in charge steps up to the microphone, the very one that moments before was held by the singer who was urging us to macarena, although only a few of the conferees had accepted the offer to step onto the dance floor. * * * * Nathan has been stung by the claim that he is a narcissist. And while he may protest too much I am basically on his side on this one. Only boors use the DSM diagnosis as a name-throwing resource. To do so trivializes the wounds of the heart and mocks the science that would heal them. Then too the fact that Nathan uses his own experience, mulls it, repeats it in several books does not mean that Nathan himself is incapable of feeling someone else's grief, that he treads on the souls that fall before him, that his love affairs are no more than experiments in self-love. Nathan says in The Counterlife, "Being Zuckerman is one long performance and the very opposite of what is thought of as being oneself." On the other hand this is a little coy. Zuckerman is not just a mirror of human nature. He is very particularly Zuckerman. He says, "I certainly have no self independent of my posturing artistic efforts to have one. Nor would I want one. I am a theater and nothing more than a theater." Nathan uses Nathan's ills ironically, comically, and histrionically. He does not cast his critical eye only on others. He asks himself all the right questions; he takes responsibility for his catastrophes. When Roth writes what is intended as a real version of his life, Nathan calls him on all the omissions, elisions, posturing fakeness that always appear when we tell each other the "real" story. Again and again Roth speaks of his grateful and loyal ties to parents, the same parents he has parodied and bloodied in Carnovsky, a.k.a. Portnoy's Complaint. Nathan is the one who points this out to us, his readers. He lets himself get away with nothing. "If you hang onto yourself any longer you'll disappear right up your asshole," he says. He knows he appears like a narcissist. "Had he kept a pain diary, the only entry would have been one word: myself." But narcissism isn't his only problem. He's also a flasher. What was Ozzie doing on the roof but opening his raincoat? If he wasn't, if he was reserved and dignified and didn't want you to look at him, his balls balling away, what fun would we have, what more would we understand about ourselves? Writers are exhibitionistic if you must put a clinical label on it, thank God for it. On the other hand there is this odd passage in Patrimony, a nonfiction book about his father's death by Nathan's alter ego Roth. Roth wakes from a quintuple bypass in the intensive care unit. He has learned that his heart prior to the emergency operation has been functioning on only 20 percent of the needed oxygen. He thinks of his newly opened arteries and he feels exhilarated by the free flow of blood and he "whispered to that baby (his heart), just under my breath, suck, yes, suck, suck away, it's yours, all yours, for you... and never in my life had I been happier. The thought that I was giving suck to my own newborn heart provided hours of most intense pleasure -- partaking of the most delirious maternal joy." What we are hearing is a grown man frightened of death, in the intensive care unit, soothing himself with a fantasy of being his own mother, of nurturing his own heart. His mother is dead. His father is dying. His life is threatened. This is a man who has not had a child of his own (which is another part of the story) and who must find mother love within himself. Oddly touching, even wondrous, that the human imagination can leap into the chasm and hold us secure in the darkest of times. Look how fiercely men want a mother, to what ends of imagination they will go to find one. What ails Nathan, who remembers so fondly as a small child curling up in his mother's seal coat, her little marsupial, protected from the world? I think it's the extraordinary ferocity of his bind to Mrs. Portnoy, Mrs. Zuckerman, that makes him long so desperately for the loving saving hand of the smooching mother. This awful awesome neediness in turn ignites a rage against this woman who has evoked such love that might prevent a child from growing up and becoming a man. (This is the wild analyst in me speaking. A wild analyst has had no training and just tramples the flowers in other people's gardens -- ought not to be allowed.) Now is it mere accident that Ozzie on the rooftop demands an admission of the possibility of the immaculate conception? He might have chosen any other Christian miracle -- the Resurrection would do. But he, little Ozzie, makes his stand on the birth of the son having occurred, miracle of miracles without the messy, annoying, rivalrous father ever having touched or done anything else dirty to the beloved Mary mother. There are no accidents in fiction any more than in dreams. All fiction is an extended Freudian slip. What Nathan longs for and never finds is the immaculate mother love of childhood, untainted by father, holy and pure, and what that love did for Nathan is make him angry, need to fight it off, and that anger fuels his books, turns the wheels with its heat, makes it hard for him to stay with women, pushes him to choose wounded types who will cling or bite or bore him. Guilt and anger, not narcissism, are Nathan's closest companions and so much the better for the rest of us who can go along for the ride, our own guilts and angers and affections, natural and unnatural, echoing on each page. Nathan Zuckerman knows all this about himself and tells us so. He is the master of self-analysis. The question is what good does it do, what has it brought him? Not happiness or peace or rest. All criticisms, all insights, all possible remarks are anticipated in Nathan's own mind. He has created a fulsome self-portrait but don't hang it on the museum wall, not yet. There is a mystery still, there is the odd fact that knowing Zuckerman one still doesn't know Zuckerman, not really, not exactly. All that bouncing around and altering through acts of imagination the facts of one's life produces a kind of shimmer, the kind that comes off the pavement on a hot day, distorting, exhausting us, a moment in which the magician can disappear, saw a lady in half, stuff a rabbit into his top hat. Zuckerman shows us the way his mind works just as certain contemporary designers let you see the plumbing through the transparent plastic of the sink or toilet seat. This is just another act, another version of the real thing that is not itself the real thing. He keeps telling us that, and since no one quite believes it, he has to tell us again. Oh, Nathan if you were my son I would take you back under my coat, warm and safe, I would hold you there. I would stave off all muscle aches and depressions. I would wave my arms and chase away all breakdowns. My great love for you, my endless admiration, would surround you with comfort and you would hate me for it, I suppose, and write a nasty book about me for sure, and then write sugary things ever after to cover up what you really felt. What a mess we are. What a mess we are in. I just want you to know that if you were my son instead of my contemporary, I would always hope that one day you would return to my coat and snuggle in for a long stay. Never mind that I don't wear my seal coat anymore because some virtuous person threw red paint on it. It hangs in my closet waiting for you. Zuckerman to Roth: "The whole point about your fiction (and in America, not only yours) is that the imagination is always in transit between the good boy and the bad boy -- that's the tension that leads to revelation." These words are from the nonfiction book The Facts, in which Roth is setting the record straight, sort of. This good boy has no nasty thoughts and would never ask Sharon Shatsky to put a zucchini in her cunt. The bad boy can't stay put, has sexual thoughts running through his head like subtitles to a foreign film, nonstop. The good boy is full of guilt. The bad boy is too but acts anyway or writes anyway. It is true that this tension is the crucible of art. Maybe for those who are not writers the wrestling match between the good and bad self just creates bad dreams and fears of flying or turning out the lights. But Nathan has it right: bad boys are sexy, sex obsessed, daring egomaniacs, and good boys are dull as dishwater. Every real boy is a little bit of both and every good novel has a bad boy pulling the strings. So be it. This is equally true of true nonfiction -- that is to say nonfiction that goes down past the platitudes into the real grimy stuff. Nathan wrote Patrimony under his Roth alias and a lot of it does sound like a real writer making public amends to a father he may have offended in fiction. It also reads as if the author had come to respect and admire his bossy but beloved father, speaking with great tenderness and grief about the last years of his life. But there is one big slip. The father with a brain tumor, recovering from an operation, is visiting Roth in his Connecticut home and goes upstairs to the bathroom, the scene of other transgressive, impolite, wild Portnoy acts. Here the father, as he says, "beshat himself," loses control and shit is smeared all over the bathroom, the towels, the floor, the shower curtains. Roth describes himself cleaning up his father's mess, on his hands and knees, scrubbing the tiles. He speaks of becoming father to his father, his father becoming child to his child. The father is humiliated by this event. The writer son tells the world of his father's most intimate dreadful loss of control. This is not the Good Son writing. This is the wild Nathan who knows where the paydirt in the story lies. The father would surely have preferred his bowels left out of the tale. The son under the guise of love vanquishes once and for all the father, no longer the bossy man, no longer the rival for the mother's love, now an infant who needs someone else to clean up the shit he has spread about. The episode looks like love but the very telling of it reveals the opposite. Here is Roth being the good son for all the world's approval, and all the world did approve, but behind the curtain Nathan, Alex, Peter, have tipped the fact that they still have their hands on the strings. The tension and the poignancy of this scene are increased by Nathan's childlessness. This came about not entirely by accident or fate. His care of his father is the nurturing of the past. It leads backward not forward. It leads toward a book about his father's death rather than an actual human being who would impose his or her erupting life on the author. It is part of the bad boy in the writer, who gives away as little as possible, who is ill suited to PTA meetings and reruns of Barney, whose id is still howling for exclusive attention and who hasn't loved as real fathers may love: wagered, lost, made mistakes, soul burnished, dented or polished, grieved, expectant, shaped through their child's peril, triumph, failure, illness, nightmare or simply learning to ride a bike or walk out the door. If books are your children, you remain in control of the product. If children are your children, then you are fortune's hostage ever after. I do not find it particularly attractive in Nathan that his so smart DNA will not -- not 50 percent of it, not any of it -- be replicated. But the bad boy, the angry boy, the one we glimpse even when he is trying hard to be very good as in Patrimony, is no Dagwood Bumstead, no Robin Williams in drag turncoat he. Would I marry Nathan if he were the last man on earth? I would mate with anyone who was the last man on earth, so the question tells me nothing. But I suspect that my own good girl-bad girl problem would make me putty in Nathan's hands. How fortunate I am that he would not be interested in molding my clay. * * * * In front of the Fontainebleau, the trompe l'oeil, a painted archway leading to the ocean's edge, which is actually a flat wall, is illuminated at night by a series of bulbs on top of the structure. A faint glow from the lights extends into the patio area. We hear shots, more breaking glass, the glow is gone. The apparent leader of our captors stands in the middle of the dance floor. His men are on all sides. There is no talk of macarena. Nathan turns to me. "Am I imagining this?" I'm not sure if he is joking or if he is confused. "You might have," I say, "but you didn't." The terrorist raises a megaphone to his lips. It seems to be the same one that I saw the lifeguard use in the afternoon when he wanted someone to swim closer to the shore. In an accent, Middle Eastern, or perhaps from the Caucasus, or maybe from Peru, or possibly Pakistan, the words come blaring forth: "Writers who are not Jewish may leave the hotel. The Jews must stay. The Jews will stay. The circumcised men will stay unless they can prove Christianity." "We're going to have a debate?" Nathan whispers. The Dominican poet gets up. "I'm going," she says. She bends to kiss Nathan on the top of his head. "You were good last night," she said. "If they shoot you, you'll die with my smell on your skin." As she leaves I say to Nathan, "She's not such a good poet you know. I hear she copies her stuff from her students." The Romanian essayist on my right gets up and drops his pants and pulls from beneath his boxer shorts his organ. One of the terrorists examines the exposed pale and very withdrawn penis. In order to see clearly he has to pick it up and pull it forward. The Romanian does not look unhappy. He is humming during the examination. He offers his name and adds that he too doesn't like Jews. He is allowed to pull up his pants and leave. The young Jewish writer who has brought her baby to the conference is white faced and grim. She holds her baby so hard he begins to cry. The terrorist takes the baby from her and for a moment we all freeze in horror, but the man simply puts the baby over his shoulder and pats him 'til the sobbing subsides. He then returns the child to its shaking mother. What can this mean, this act of paternal kindness on the part of a man with an Uzi, four hand grenades strapped to his waist, and a cowlick of black hair that sticks straight up from the brow of his mask? Could this terrorist know the latest wisdom -- that paternal men are sexy? I look into his eyes hoping to see a motive, a future, a demand that can easily be met. I see brown eyes with a fleck of yellow in the center. I see pools of alarm, which I don't believe is a good sign. We hear sirens, police cars zooming in. We hear commands to police. Is there a SWAT team outside? Bull Connor, where are you now that I need you? Nathan turns to me. "Am I making this up?" "No," I say. "I already told you. It's real." "I'm sorry," he says. "I always repeat everything. Not just in my dotage, I always have. It's my style." "I know," I say. I feel bad, my impatience must have showed. "There must be a good side to this," he says. "What do you think it is?" (He has learned over the years to ask a woman for her opinion.) "You'll not only be a famous Jewish writer," I say. "You'll be a famous Jewish martyr." "That'll make Irving Howe spin in his grave, that'll show those rabbis once and for all." I'm not listening to him. I'm trying to make eye contact with the man behind the mask who holds the microphone. There are only four of us left at the table. * * * * Nathan, I agree with you mostly that truth is less interesting than fiction. This is one of your mantras. It serves you well, although you go to great lengths to prove it in your autobiography, The Facts. You let Nathan give it to Roth who has written a pallid basically boring version, a kind of public relations manual about his life. You point out all the ways that fiction would have let Roth say it the way it was, full of the boils and blood, the frogs and plagues that his life really contained. You point out that Roth is positioning himself as a sainted soul, a passerby in the more calamitous events of his life when in fact his crooked heart engineered many of the crashes and applauded some of the others. Why are you so obsessed with this subject, so bent on proving to us that you have invented, that you are an artist not a journalist, not a mere cartographer of contemporary Jewish boys trying their best in a wicked wicked world? Some of the answer lies in the particular historical moment of your passage into adulthood. I was there too, a little behind you but there. God was dead for us. The Enlightenment seemed to have finished him off and his last gasp was surely at Auschwitz. The universe was empty of moral order but it had to have moral order or it would explode or we would explode -- what to do? The shadow of destruction, A-bombs and H-bombs and stick-your-head-under-the-desk all lay just a button push away. Perhaps it was all over, the pathetic attempt at civilized life. A pox on all politics, we thought, we smart-asses with real valves already thickening our young arteries. Communism was a gulag horror. Democracy was Jim Crow and better, just barely, than the rest. Fascism was the nightmare at the end of the socialist tunnel. Who cared anymore? Not us. We turned instead to art as our salvation. The artist became the priest of the new world order, one that even if it didn't provide salvation would at least explain us to ourselves. A whiff, a breeze from Paris brought us Sartre and Camus and the existentialist. Everything is dead out there, but the words to say it, describe it, still stand. Art is everything. For Nathan his education at the hands of a kindly English professor spinster was the boat back across the River Styx; on the life side of the shore he could make it as an artist. Now I still believe most of this, but without the seriousness, the holiness, such an idea once carried. Nathan too fell for it. He just managed to keep his vernacular and his sense of humor dry during the crossing. Most of us fell in and drowned. But if you claim all he did was report well, that stings Nathan. It drives him crazy when you reduce him, strip him of the title, make a mere journalist out of a creative artist. So the question of what is art and what is simple truth haunts him. He has a big stake in your getting the right answer. Maybe you had to be there to understand how important this matter of Art was to us. Today it may seem like much ado about nothing. Then it was everything, something like money seems right now. Nathan says, "Dad informed me that it was a human impossibility for one person to pee in another's pants. Little did he know about the power of art." Nice earthy statement that. But don't be fooled by the bathroom talk. Nathan isn't just peeing. He's making that stream into a golden flow, a comet in the sky of the soul, a magic carpet to take us to ourselves, to make us laugh along the way, to guide us toward insight, self-awareness, maybe even a kind of damp urinary salvation. Nathan said, "No, one's story isn't a skin to be shed. It's inescap-able, one's body and blood. You go on pumping it out until you die, the story veined with the themes of your life, the ever recurring story that's at once your invention and the invention of you." Now Nathan, there are salacious gritty details in your books that tell us that we are creatures who have raw needs. We fart and shit and masturbate and drool in our sleep. These are things you can talk about in your fiction but don't really want associated with you, your real person, and you get uncomfortable when someone reads your books as if they were literal reports of your life. You say in one of your disguises, "I happen to be no more immune to shame or built for public exposure than the next burgher with shades on his bedroom window and a latch on the bathroom door. -- I am sensitive to nothing in the world as I am to my moral reputation." Nathan Zuckerman is not a man who wants to go out to dinner and have everyone think about what he may have done with a liver in his hormone-besotted youth. What he is is a writer who wants us to appreciate his wit and keen observation and humor that brought us the hard-breathing boy and the meat and the atmosphere -- most certainly accurate because we recognize it -- of awkward desire and suffocating home filled with demands to cover up, bury deep down the baser instincts. When Nathan is feeling less than cocky, no pun intended, he assesses his position in the world and says, "It wasn't literary fame. It was sexual fame and sexual fame stinks." What he means is that it embarrasses him. It makes him ashamed to have strangers leering at him. Well it's hard for an author to separate himself out from his character and the attempt is doomed to fail because everyone knows the author is absolutely not the character and absolutely the character at the same time. So Nathan just be proud of the scalawag you are and always were. Let the readers confuse what they will confuse. No one can make you ashamed unless you let them. Of course Nathan grows weary halfway up the mountain. The Jews built a golden calf while Moses was talking to God. He says, "I can't take any more of my inner life, subjectivity is the subject and I've had it." He says, "Starving myself of experience and eating only words. It brings out the drudge in me." He says, "The burden isn't that everything has to be a book. It's that everything can be a book and doesn't count as life until it is." So sometimes Nathan turns against himself and his profession as do we all. Enough. Time for a change. Sometimes Nathan wishes he could stop "forcing the world to pay attention to my moan." But this fear of having nothing more to say, this post-Portnoy's Complaint pre-The Ghost Writer fear that Nathan was washed up, washed out, jaw wired, shut up, turned out to be a false alarm. Nathan went on, regained his strength, had more love affairs to mine and other books to write in which Nathan now often becomes the narrator not the subject, or so the illusion is cast. Again and again a new clown comes out of the little car and the audience applauds. Good for him. What Nathan does want is for us to honor him, number one guerrilla fighter against the many armed forces of repressive civilization. He is doing battle for our vital juices, our life energy, our true feelings even when they are not so nice, especially when they are not so nice. He says, "Story telling is the form of resistance taken against the powers that be." Thank you very much Nathan for your brave soldiering on my behalf. Actually Nathan I need you. Everyone needs you. Your story contains the nut of the resistance, the price for putting up that resis-tance -- pain, depression, loneliness, breakdown. It does seem a little churlish, a little drawn out for you to be so concerned about what I think of you, whether I confuse you with the other you, the more fictional, therefore more free to tell the truth you or I don't. I know you hate it when you're denied privacy and dignity and everyone feels entitled to take as fact things that are not fact, just fictional truths. But perhaps you could chill out on this because the confusion between reality and realer reality is just an artist's sleight of hand, as you have demonstrated over and over again. So what if you sacrifice your right to seem to the public like a banker or a broker or the guy in the seat on the commuter train who is sleeping behind his copy of Time magazine? You shouldn't care if someone thinks you are really Portnoy or Tarnopol or Roth. Let them. In The Ghost Writer, Zuckerman who has come to visit the older esteemed writer Lonoff learns from Lonoff that the writer's life is nothing more than his writing, as if it had been transformed from the ordinary slippery stuff nonwriters endure into pages and print, books. Lonoff claims to have lived only for his art but this is somewhat disingenuous. He has an affair going with a student and he has a marriage that itself is an Ibsen play and a half. Zuckerman has betrayed his ballet dancer girlfriend and come to a writers' retreat (Quahsay) to work on a book. This endless fooling around with what belongs to the writer's life in real time and what is art is not just a joke with mirrors. It's real but it's not, it's a tease, but not just a tease involves us in the whole conundrum of Nathan's endless self-justification. What Nathan is telling us is: I use and I transform what I use into something funny, useful to you my reader, so stop blaming me or shaming me or pushing me around. Notice how hard I work at making the dross of dailiness into a comedy of manners, look at how I twist and turn for you my reader. This is Ozzie again hectoring us from his perch, I am right, you are wrong, art is superior to all else, and art is the only theology worth jumping off the roof for and you better believe it. Well I do believe it -- not as much as I used to. Now that I have children and my children have broken hearts and had disappointments of their own and now that I have seen real disease and loss not the Magic Mountain kind and now that I know that certain mountains will never be scaled by me at least, I find raw life, life without art, more tolerable, more interesting, than the plummeted, picked-over, shaped version a writer will offer as a present and then stand there waiting for a huge thank-you just as if your telephone weren't ringing, your bills weren't due, and you hadn't your own sex life to manage before the last morning comes. Now about women. Nathan Zuckerman has been accused of being a misogynist and that's a crock. In one book he has one of his women say to him, "Zuckerman you don't know how to relieve the thing that aches and prods, to soothe the longing, to find the tender gesture so you say fuck and fuck some more and in your anger at what is missing and remains missing you scream fuck again. It's so sad. I could weep. It's not that you dislike, despise or deplore women, it's that you can't find your way toward them, you're always locked outside a door and through the keyhole you scream, fuck." This is Zuckerman telling himself what's up. This is not a man who uses or abuses women. More often in fact they seem to abuse him, with his participation of course. The gender wars we have recently endured have left their scars. It gets so easy to see the man as a predator and the female as a victim. Nathan's fateful encounter with Lydia, Josie, Maureen, was with a woman so wounded by a destructive father and a shabby family that she became a tiger, a savage beast sinking her teeth into fresh meat Nathan, Peppy. She lied to him about being pregnant. She set up a situation in which he could never be good enough, loving enough, and was engaged in a sadomasochistic duel of recrimination, accusation, hostile and clinging love. It didn't last for that long. But the horror of it left a scar. It made Nathan think he wanted freedom when he wanted affection, connection, which itself alarmed him so he ran away when it became possible and he chose wounded birds, angry sometimes mute wounded songbirds to spend his time with. He went for surface instead of substance, and when he had substance he grew restless, afraid of normalcy, of the hot breath of ordinary time passing. This man is no misogynist, he is a lover, an idealist, a dreamer, as well as a man who needs to have his soup on the table when he comes in from the cold. Any man this funny is also this angry and the anger isn't going to behave properly, be turned only against political injustice, a critic or two here or there, it will in fact besiege the bedroom, knock over the wine glass, leap under the sheets and cause havoc, sweat, and tears. All right. I'm thinking that if he had only known me, taken me home with him, all would be different. Why, on what grounds, do I think such a thing? He had many women far more beautiful than I. He had intelligent literary women. He had famous women. He had dutiful, respectful, and loving women and they all disappointed, wore out their welcome. Why would I have been different? Truth: I wouldn't. Truth: I'm not sure I even like him. Truth: just because a man can make you laugh, you shouldn't picture a life of happily ever after with him; in fact comedians may be better off left in the wild, you can't tame them any more than you can teach a faun to read or potty-train a hippopotamus. * * * * The red lights of Miami's police cars reflect in the sky, giving the stars -- it will be a sunny day tomorrow for those who live to see it -- a pink sparkle. The palm trees by the side of the patio shake their fronds in the evening breeze. The leader of the group is counting heads. Ten Jewish writers in all -- six women and four men. Malamud has died, Bellow is home with the latest newborn baby, Heller has died. Miller and Mailer don't like to be thought of as Jewish and wouldn't show up. Podhoretz in his dotage is home flogging yet again another dead horse. Since he is now the last cold warrior alive, he's afraid that a warm place would be harmful for his icy heart or so he hinted to the conference organizers. There is a group of Poles who have immigrated to America who claim they are Jewish writers but most of their claims proved to be false, names taken off cemeteries and adopted as grandparents -- that sort of thing. There are two German writers who converted to Judaism out of sympathy with the victims who were covering the conference for ACHTUNG, the German cultural Internet connection, but they left with the first dismissed group of hostages. You can carry identification just so far. I understand that. The younger crop of Jewish writers, Nathan Englander, Allegra Goodman, the hopefuls who are not from the secular squeeze generation but refugees from the ultraorthodox world of the outer boroughs -- they want their turn at fame and money. They haven't had a chance to write about much more than their adolescence. This is their first grown-up material. They are truly afraid not only of dying and being dumped into the grave of the unknown Jewish writer but of not using the event as fantastically brilliantly as the person sitting next to them. Cynthia Ozick sits Ganesh-like at the other table. Her gray Mamie Eisenhower bangs look brave on her wide forehead. She is schoolgirlish, long skirted, a nun in street clothes. Her only concession to Florida is her cherry pink socks that keep her maryjanes from rubbing blisters on her feet. Her lips are pinched tightly together. She always knew they would get her, she always knew that as Jew she would die a violent death. Her enemies have called her an ideologue, a fanatic, an uncompromising hater just because she fought against peace in Israel until it was a done deal and the Iraqi prince married Miss Israel in a wedding celebrated at what had once been Saddam Hussein's palace. However, she was correct: the Jews will always be the first to go, and this night, the attack on the Fontainebleau's minority writer conference, justifies her lifelong fears. She is not displeased. You can see it in the set of her body, in the mist on her glasses. It was always going to come to this. She will give these terrorists a piece of her mind before they shoot her, she will. She will invoke Henry James and George Eliot to show them what barbarians they are at the gate or here it should be called the port, or the marina of the decent moral world. I am bored. What is happening? Why is a real crisis so slow, not like the movies at all? Is Bruce Willis right now sliding down a banister or riding the top of the elevator cab? I begin to count the freckles, the age spots on Nathan's hands and forearms. Hold still, I want to tell him as I keep losing my place. The leader of the group comes to our table. Zuckerman, he says in a loud voice. Nathan Zuckerman. Nathan turns. I can see he is angry, more angry than scared. "Don't shout," he says. "I can hear you. I have a state-of-the-art hearing aid. You want to see it?" He puts his forefinger into his ear and digs around. The terrorist shakes his head. He doesn't want to see it. The terrorist sits down at the table, laying his huge gun over the turquoise cloth, knocking over the coconut centerpiece, sending the candle spluttering. With his bare fingers, the terrorist pinches the wick, extinguishing our little light. I have tears in my eyes. I wanted to be there for my youngest grandchild's graduation from nursery school. I can see I won't make it. There must always be some celebration you don't make. I try for philosophical calm. "What I want, what my demand is," says the terrorist, "is that you Jewish writers come to our little island in the South Pacific and write about our problem with the occupiers of our homeland. You know how to get the whole world worried about you, how to be the center of political attention. We have no press. The counterinsurgents killed our public relations officer six months ago. No one knows or cares about us. We are the Jews of the atolls. We need novelists and storytellers and you're the ones we have decided on. Jewish writers know how to get the job done. I want to take you back with me, helicopters are waiting on the beach. I will put you up in my very own quarters in the jungle. You will write and then you will publish and as a result we will be saved." I say, "We could consider that." Cynthia Ozick says from her table, "Never will I write for them. They are anti-Semites pure and simple." "Not so simple," I say. One of the young Jewish writers says she has to go find a phone, her mother is expecting her to call. The terrorist offers her his own cell phone. We hear her dial. She says, "Mom, it's great down here, I haven't met anyone yet but there's a big dance tomorrow." The terrorist shrugs. "Why," he asks me, "is it so hard for a Jewish girl to find a Jewish boy?" "It's a long story," I say. "Ask him." I point to Nathan. Nathan laughs, not an entirely kind laugh. "How shall this evening end?" I ask him. "As usual -- dead Jews," he says. "I'll go with you," I say, "but leave the others. I'm seventy-six years old and in fine health. I had a polio booster a few years ago. I'm happy to serve your cause. It would be my pleasure." "Good," says the terrorist. "But I want Nathan Zuckerman and Cynthia Ozick too." Nathan stands up. His legs are not as good as when he played baseball for Weequahic High so many years ago, but they still do their job. He is wearing a blue blazer and looks like a member of the Century Club as well as the Academy of Arts and Letters, or the Union Club or the University Club, the real McCoy who is now the real McCohen. He takes my arm. "Come," he says, "we'll go." "Who exactly is oppressing you?" Cynthia asks as we leave the patio and walk past the stone lions that guard, not so effectively, the path to the cabanas at the beach. "Goyim," says the terrorists. "Cossacks," he adds for good luck. Cynthia nods. She understands. "You must be firm," she says. "Don't give an inch, never sympathize with the enemy or you're lost. Kill those in your own ranks who would compromise or backtrack or talk nice to terrorists." "But we're terrorists," says the man who is now poking me in the rib with his rifle. "Nonsense," says Cynthia. "You're not terrorists, you're patriots." She is the first one of us to develop Stockholm syndrome. Huddled together in the back seat of the helicopter, too noisy for conversation, I remember I left my blood pressure pills in the cosmetic bag in my hotel room. Cynthia Ozick is sitting on the seat facing us. She is explaining to the terrorist that she cannot eat any meat on their island and must have a vegetarian diet. The terrorist has promised to get her kosher cereal flown in from Israel. "We have connections there," he tells her. Nathan has his hand on my knee, or is it higher up than that? He is leaning his head down onto my shoulder as we rise above the Atlantic. I feel his tongue wiggling against my collarbone. The thought comes to me, Will he want me for my mind or my body? That old question, it never goes away. The English-speaking terrorist removes his mask. He looks eighteen years old. From a satchel under his seat he pulls a well-thumbed copy of Goodbye, Columbus. "Will you sign it for me?" he asks. Nathan reaches out for the book. As he pulls his pen out of his pocket, he says to me, "This is my material. I hope you agree it's my story to tell." He is not smiling. "All right," I agree. I smile sweetly. I am lying. Writers are liars. He holds his pen in midair. He says to the young terrorist, "I think you might want to push her out of the plane." He is shoving me, his old man's hip pushing against mine. He is shoving me toward the door. Copyright © 2000 Anne Roiphe. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

1 Holden Caulfieldp. 3
2 Robert Jordanp. 41
3 Dick Diverp. 77
4 Rabbitp. 109
5 Nathan Zuckermanp. 143
6 Frank Bascombep. 179
7 Max and Mickeyp. 209