Thursday, May 26, 2016
Review: "Operation Shylock" by Philip Roth
I was making some pretty odd comparisons while reading Philip Roth’s quasi-novel Operation Shylock. At points it reminded me of many other novels that were fictionalized accounts of the writer’s life: good ones such as Ron Currie Jr.’s Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles and bad ones such as Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated. At other times, the comparisons I was making got a little too weird for even me, with some of the more oddball scenes in the book reminded me of some cinematic counterparts, like Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and Lucio Fulci’s Cat in the Brain. It is a true testament to a writer like Roth to bring to mind such a varied selection of stories in such a weird and confounding story. This book, published during Roth’s fruitful period in the 1990’s, where he picked up award after award with ease, is rather experimental, and not nearly as good as Sabbath’s Theater and American Pastoral, which came after (although it is mildly better than The Human Stain). It center on Roth himself, who, after a nervous breakdown brought on by his use of a sleeping pill, finds that he is embroiled in a worldwide plan to get Jews out of Israel, headed up by a swindling doppelganger and taking place during the show trial of an accused Nazi war criminal. It’s deeply flawed and convoluted, but like all of Roth’s books I have read, it has real charm and a deep intelligence that thought provoking in spite of it all (and no Roth book is complete without awful sex, this time over the telephone). It brings up questions of Jewish identity and how people tend to fetishize their past sufferings, and in Roth’s hands these ideas are both profound and goofy. While far from his best, and definitely not a place to start with Roth, I found this book charming and deeply intelligent, and it allowed me to mentioned Fulci in a book review!