The Professor of Desire--Philip Roth


I finished the book listed in the title of this on the flight from Orlando to Washington D.C. I had to endure the cab ride to Silver Spring before I could open and finish the last two pages of the book, and with it fresh in my mind, I'm not certain that I'm ready to say anything helpful about it.

Let me start with nonessentials--having finished this book, I now have three that I brought with me to choose from--Saul Bellow's Seize the Day, the next in the David Kepesh saga--The Dying Animal by Philip Roth, or Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim. Or I can choose from the plethora of reads on my Kindle including current perusal of Ulysses or The Ambassadors.

Back to Roth--while I enjoyed the book, I was ambivalent about how I felt about the main character at the end. It was very similar to my experience with Isabel Archer at the end of Portrait of a Lady. Though for quite different reasons. Isabel comes to her ruin through her enormous pride--wanting her complete freedom, she more thoroughly destroys it than would be otherwise possible. Reading The Professor of Desire one is left with two possible conclusions regarding David Kepesh, and unfortunately I know which one I favor. The first is that early formative experiences, including a sexual liaison in his early twenties with two women at the same time, which nearly destroys one of the participants, so thoroughly colored his experience of sexuality and life that his subsequent choices were shunted down progressively more destructive paths. The second is that David Kepesh is stuck in a permanent romantic adolescence in which passion is everything and the possibility of settling into a relationship in which passion and its sexual expression were not a constant succession of progressively more pyrotechnic and cataclysmic encounters was not thinkable. This latter is a state too many men in America found themselves permanently bound up in, if one is to believe the divorce statistics and the activities of even supposedly devout Catholics.

As I said, I doubt that anything here could guide a reader one way or another with regard to the book. I need to consider it longer, more deeply, and more broadly to come to any sort of conclusion at all.

But, oh, what magnificent and controlled language, what beautiful sentences. Not lyrical in the John Updike way, but in some ways better, stronger, more filled with tension and life--more New York, less Boston. The language really is a wonder to behold, even when reading about subjects that in the abstract and by themselves are not particularly uplifting.

I'll try to write more about this when I have a better idea of what would be helpful and meaningful to say.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on September 14, 2009 9:53 PM.

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