Cover image for The dying animal
Title:
The dying animal
Author:
Roth, Philip.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 2001.
Physical Description:
156 pages ; 20 cm
Language:
English
Geographic Term:
ISBN:
9780618135875
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

David Kepesh is white-haired and over sixty, an eminent TV culture critic and star lecturer at a New York college, when he meets Consuela Castillo, a decorous, well-mannered student of twenty-four, the daughter of wealthy Cuban exiles, who promptly puts his life into erotic disorder.
Since the sexual revolution of the 1960s, when he left his wife and child, Kepesh has experimented with living what he calls an "emancipated manhood," beyond the reach of family or a mate. Over the years he has refined that exuberant decade of protest and license into an orderly life in which he is both unimpeded in the world of eros and studiously devoted to his aesthetic pursuits. But the youth and beauty of Consuela, "a masterpiece of volupté" undo him completely, and a maddening sexual possessiveness transports him to the depths of deforming jealousy. The carefree erotic adventure evolves, over eight years, into a story of grim loss.
What is astonishing is how much of America's post-sixties sexual landscape is encompassed in THE DYING ANIMAL. Once again, with unmatched facility, Philip Roth entangles the fate of his characters with the social forces that shape our daily lives. And there is no character who can tell us more about the way we live with desire now than David Kepesh, whose previous incarnations as a sexual being were chronicled by Roth in THE BREAST and THE PROFESSOR OF DESIRE.
A work of passionate immediacy as well as a striking exploration of attachment and freedom, THE DYING ANIMAL is intellectually bold, forcefully candid, wholly of our time, and utterly without precedent--a story of sexual discovery told about himself by a man of seventy, a story about the power of eros and the fact of death.


Author Notes

Philip Roth was born in Newark, New Jersey on March 19, 1933. He attended Rutgers University for one year before transferring to Bucknell University where he completed a B.A. in English with highest honors. He received an M.A. from the University of Chicago in 1955 and taught there briefly.

His first book, Goodbye, Columbus, received the National Book Award in 1960. His other books include Letting Go, When She Was Good, Portnoy's Complaint, Our Gang, My Life as a Man, The Ghostwriter, Zuckerman Unbound, The Anatomy Lesson, Deception, Nemesis, and Indignation. He won National Book Critic Circle Awards in 1987 for his novel The Counterlife and again in 1992 for his memoir Patrimony: A True Story. He won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction in 1993 for Operation Shylock: A Confession, the National Book Award in 1995 for Sabbath's Theater, and the Pulitzer Prize in 1998 for American Pastoral.

(Bowker Author Biography) Philip Roth's work has been acclaimed around the world. His most recent novels are "The Human Stain", published by Houghton Mifflin in 2000; "I Married a Communist" (1999), winner of the Ambassador Award of the English-Speaking Union; "American Pastoral" (1997), winner of the Pulitzer Prize in fiction; & "Sabbath's Theater" (1995), winner of the National Book Award. Previous award-winning works include "Patrimony" (1991), winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award; "Operation Shylock" (1993), winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award; "The Counterlife" (1986), winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award; & "Goodbye, Columbus" (1959), his first book, winner of the National Book Award. In 1998 he was awarded the National Medal of Arts.

(Publisher Provided)


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The tremendous power of Roth's writing is rooted in his uncanny ability to transform thought into a palpable force. Every potently composed sentence of this taut and ferocious tale--a surging confessional rant by professor and critic David Kepesh, whom Roth first conjured into existence in The Breast and The Professor of Desire and who's now a flinty 70--lands in the reader's mind like a grenade. Kepesh is recounting his infatuation with a former student, a salacious recitation that segues into a provocative critique of the consequences of the sexual revolution and a riveting debate about timeless questions of freedom, pleasure, and love. Roth is a masterful chronicler of erotic desire and obsession, and as his hero describes his helplessness before the voluptuous beauty of the well-bred Consuela Castillo, a self-contained 24 to his rapacious 62 when they first meet, he delves into everything from the extremism of the Puritans to whether or not sex is the only time "you are most cleanly alive and most cleanly yourself." Along the way, he also examines the claustrophobia of marriage, the "pornography of jealousy," the "wound of age," and, finally, inescapably, death. Kepesh may be selfish and manipulative, but Roth has imbued him with profound integrity and blazing intelligence--his riffs on sexual politics and the inanity of mass culture are not to be missed. Kepesh owns up to the tragic fact that his pursuit of personal liberty cost him his son's love, and, for all his braggadocio, he truly worships women. Virtuosic, riling, and fearless, Roth is the bard of the modern American psyche. Donna Seaman


Publisher's Weekly Review

Eros and mortality are the central themes of Roth's frank, unsparing and curious new novella. It's curious not only because of its short form (new for Roth), but because he seems to have assumed the mantle of Saul Bellow, writing pages of essay-like exposition on contemporary social phenomena and advancing the narrative through introspection rather than dialogue. The protagonist is again David Kepesh (of The Breast and The Professor of Desire), who left his wife and son during the sexual revolution vowing to indulge his erotic needs without encumbrance. Kepesh is now an eminent 70-year-old cultural critic and lecturer at a New York college, recalling a devastating, all-consuming affair he had eight years before with voluptuous 24-year-old Consuela Castillo, a graduate student and daughter of a prosperous Cuban ‚migr‚ family. From the beginning, Kepesh is oppressed by the "unavoidable poignancy" of their age difference, and he suffers with the jealous knowledge that this liaison will likely be his last; even when locked in the throes of sexual congress, a death's head looms in his imagination. The end of the affair casts him into a long depression. When Consuela contacts him again eight years later, on the New Year's Eve of the millennium, their reunion is doubly ironic in the Roth tradition. Consuela has devastating news about her body, and it's obvious that retribution is at hand for the old libertine. Roth's candor about an elderly man's consciousness that he's "a dying animal" (from the Yeats poem) is unsentimental, and his descriptions of the lovers' erotic acts push the envelope in at least one scene involving menstruation. The novella is as brilliantly written, line by line, as any book in Roth's oeuvre, and it's bound to be talked about with gusto. (May 18) Forecast: Roth's audience is faithful, and the erotic explicitness of this book may attract other readers who have not tackled the author's longer novels. But his longtime refusal to do talk shows or give interviews will as usual limit publicity efforts, and it remains to be seen whether such a narrowly focused story will sell with the rapidity of Roth's longer novels. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

Roth at his most erotic, which really says something. A sixtyish cultural critic who has never managed to commit he's still enjoying the sexual revolution gets all tangled up in an affair with the voluptuous young Consuela. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

I knew her eight years ago. She was in my class. I don't teach full- time anymore, strictly speaking don't teach literature at all--for years now just the one class, a big senior seminar in critical writing called Practical Criticism. I attract a lot of female students. For two reasons. Because it's a subject with an alluring combination of intellectual glamour and journalistic glamour and because they've heard me on NPR reviewing books or seen me on Thirteen talking about culture. Over the past fifteen years, being cultural critic on the television program has made me fairly well known locally, and they're attracted to my class because of that. In the beginning, I didn't realize that talking on TV once a week for ten minutes could be so impressive as it turns out to be to these students. But they are helplessly drawn to celebrity, however inconsiderable mine may be. Now, I'm very vulnerable to female beauty, as you know. Everybody's defenseless against something, and that's it for me. I see it and it blinds me to everything else. They come to my first class, and I know almost immediately which is the girl for me. There is a Mark Twain story in which he runs from a bull, and the bull looks up to him when he's hiding in a tree, and the bull thinks, "You are my meat, sir." Well, that "sir" is transformed into "young lady" when I see them in class. It is now eight years ago--I was already sixty-two, and the girl, who is called Consuela Castillo, was twenty-four. She is not like the rest of the class. She doesn't look like a student, at least not like an ordinary student. She's not a demi-adolescent, she's not a slouching, unkempt, "like"-ridden girl. She's well spoken, sober, her posture is perfect--she appears to know something about adult life along with how to sit, stand, and walk. As soon as you enter the class, you see that this girl either knows more or wants to. The way she dresses. It isn't ex-actly what's called chic, she's certainly not flamboyant, but, to begin with, she's never in jeans, pressed or unpressed. She dresses carefully, with quiet taste, in skirts, dresses, and tailored pants. Not to desen-sualize herself but more, it would seem, to professionalize herself, she dresses like an attractive secretary in a prestigious legal firm. Like the secretary to the bank chairman. She has a cream-colored silk blouse under a tailored blue blazer with gold buttons, a brown pocketbook with the patina of expensive leather, and little ankle boots to match, and she wears a slightly stretchy gray knitted skirt that re-veals her body lines as subtly as such a skirt possibly could. Her hair is done in a natural but cared-for manner. She has a pale complexion, the mouth is bowlike though the lips are full, and she has a rounded forehead, a polished forehead of a smooth Brancusi elegance. She is Cuban. Her family are prosperous Cubans living in Jersey, across the river in Bergen County. She has black, black hair, glossy but ever so slightly coarse. And she's big. She's a big woman. The silk blouse is unbuttoned to the third button, and so you see she has powerful, beauti- ful breasts. You see the cleavage immediately. And you see she knows it. You see, despite the decorum, the meticulousness, the cautiously soign style--or because of them--that she's aware of herself. She comes to the first class with the jacket buttoned over her blouse, yet some five minutes into the session, she has taken it off. When I glance her way again, I see that she's put it back on. So you understand that she's aware of her power but that she isn't sure yet how to use it, what to do with it, how much she even wants it. That body is still new to her, she's still trying it out, thinking it through, a bit like a kid walking the streets with a loaded gun and deciding whether he's packing it to protect himself or to begin a life of crime. And she's aware of something else, and this I couldn't know from the one class meeting: she finds culture important in a reverential, old- fashioned way. Not that it's something she wishes to live by. She doesn't and she couldn't--too traditionally well brought up for that-- but it's important and wonderful as nothing else she knows is. She's the one who finds the Impressionists ravishing but must look long and hard--and always with a sense of nagging confoundment--at a Cubist Picasso, trying with all her might to get the idea. She stands there waiting for the surprising new sensation, the new thought, the new emotion, and when it won't come, ever, she chides herself for being inadequate and lacking . . . what? She chides herself for not even knowing what it is she lacks. Art that smacks of modernity leaves her not merely puzzled but disappointed in herself. She would love for Picasso to matter more, perhaps to transform her, but there's a scrim drawn across the proscenium of genius that obscures her vision and keeps her worshiping at a bit of a distance. She gives to art, to all of art, far more than she gets back, a sort of earnestness that isn't without its poignant appeal. A good heart, a lovely face, a gaze at once invit- ing and removed, gorgeous breasts, and so newly hatched as a woman that to find fragments of broken shell adhering to that ovoid forehead wouldn't have been a surprise. I saw right away that this was going to be my girl. Now, I have one set rule of some fifteen years" standing that I never break. I don't any longer get in touch with them on a private basis until they've completed their final exam and received their grade and I am no longer officially in loco parentis. In spite of temptation-- or even a clear-cut signal to begin the flirtation and make the approach--I haven't broken this rule since, back in the mid-eighties, the phone number of the sexual harassment hotline was first posted outside my office door. I don't get in touch with them any earlier so as not to run afoul of those in the university who, if they could, would seriously impede my enjoyment of life. I teach each year for fourteen weeks, and during that time I don't have affairs with them. I play a trick instead. It's an honest trick, it's an open and aboveboard trick, but it is a trick nonetheless. After the final examination and once the grades are in, I throw a party in my apartment for the students. It is always a success and it is always the same. I invite them for a drink at about six o'clock. I say that from six to eight we are going to have a drink, and they always stay till two in the morning. The bravest ones, after ten o'clock, develop into lively characters and tell me what they really are interested in. In the Practical Criticism seminar there are about twenty students, sometimes as many as twenty-five, so there will be fifteen, sixteen girls and five or six boys, of whom two or three are straight. Half of this group has left the party by ten. Generally, one straight boy, maybe one gay boy, and some nine girls will stay. They're invariably the most cultivated, intelligent, and spirited of the lot. They talk about what they're reading, what they're listening to, what art shows they've seen--enthusiasms that they don't normally go on about with their elders or necessarily with their friends. They find one another in my class. And they find me. During the party they suddenly see I am a human being. I'm not their teacher, I'm not my reputation, I'm not their parent. I have a pleasant, orderly duplex apartment, they see my large library, aisles of double-faced bookshelves that house a lifetime's reading and take up almost the entire downstairs floor, they see my piano, they see my devotion to what I do, and they stay. My funniest student one year was like the goat in the fairy tale that goes into the clock to hide. I threw the last of them out at two in the morning, and while saying good night, I missed one girl. I said, "Where is our class clown, Prospero's daughter?" "Oh, I think Miranda left," somebody said. I went back into the apartment to start cleaning the place up and I heard a door being closed upstairs. A bathroom door. And Miranda came down the stairs, laughing, radi-ant with a kind of goofy abandon--I'd never, till that moment, realized that she was so pretty--and she said, "Wasn't that clever of me? I've been hiding in your upstairs bathroom, and now I'm going to sleep with you." A little thing, maybe five foot one, and she pulled off her sweater and showed me her tits, revealing the adolescent torso of an incipiently transgressive Bal-thus virgin, and of course we slept together. All eve-ning long, much like a young girl escaped from the perilous melodrama of a Balthus painting into the fun of the class party, Miranda had been on all fours on the floor with her rump raised or lying helplessly prostrate on my sofa or lounging gleefully across the arms of an easy chair seemingly oblivious of the fact that with her skirt riding up her thighs and her legs undecorously parted she had the Balthusian air of being half undressed while fully clothed. Everything's hidden and nothing's concealed. Many of these girls have been having sex since they were fourteen, and by their twenties there are one or two curious to do it with a man of my years, if just the once, and eager the next day to tell all their friends, who crinkle up their faces and ask, "But what about his skin? Didn't he smell funny? What about his long white hair? What about his wattle? What about his little pot belly? Didn't you feel sick?" Miranda told me afterward, "You must have slept with hundreds of women. I wanted to see what it would be like." "And?" And then she said things I didn't entirely believe, but it didn't matter. She had been audacious--she had seen she could do it, game and terrified though she may have been while hid-ing in the bathroom. She discovered how courageous she was confronting this unfamiliar juxtaposition, that she could conquer her initial fears and any initial revulsion, and I--as regards the juxtaposition--had a wonderful time altogether. Sprawling, clowning, ca-vorting Miranda, posing with her underwear at her feet. Just the pleasure of looking was lovely. Though that was hardly the only reward. The decades since the sixties have done a remarkable job of completing the sexual revolution. This is a generation of astonishing fellators. There's been nothing like them ever before among their class of young women. Copyright 2001 by Philip Roth Excerpted from The Dying Animal by Philip Roth All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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