Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Letting Go, by Philip Roth: A First Novel That'd Never Be Published Today

Shout out to the four people (and four may be overstating it) who will care about this review of a 630-page novel first published in 1962! 😂

I've read more Philip Roth than any other writer. So it was about time to read Letting Go, his first full-length novel (published in 1962, after his first actual published work, Goodbye, Columbus, a story collection and novella, published in 1959). All I could think all the way through these 630 pages is that, while I was mostly enjoying it, it sure didn't feel like a Philip Roth novel. Here, Roth characters spend a lot of time actually talking to each other (mostly arguing), and they do very little individual introspection. Odd, for Roth.

This story is basically about two couples living in mid-century Chicago. Narrators and perspectives shift to reveal each characters' skeletons in the closet, and why their current relationships are fraught. But what makes this a memorable, fascinating story is that all four of these characters are absolutely neurotic and medium-terrible people. They are unforgettable, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading about all their problems with each other.

So if you think of this as a first novel, and not Philip Roth's first novel, it's an amazingly accomplished feat. It's a first novel that would NEVER get published today — or would at least be edited down to about 250 pages. Even though this novel deals with semi-dramatic issues, like disowned families, adoption, abortion, infidelity, and more, not a whole lot really happens. How Roth manages to keep you coming back for 630 pages is pretty amazing. So even though this is generally considered a minor Roth work, even though it's his debut novel, you still do get a sense of the talent that is about to unleash some of the best American literature to come over the next 50 years. And that's why I read it. It took almost a month, but I'm glad I did. 


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