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Philip Roth Blows Up

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So what turned him outward in his fiction? A retreat inward in his personal life, maybe: In 1993, he separated from Bloom, and there have been far fewer emotional distractions ever since. "He says solitude is good for him," says Bellow. "And that he feels liberated when he has these long stretches of uninterrupted writing."

Today, Roth lives alone in his eighteen-century farmhouse in Warren, Connecticut. Each morning, he rises early, takes a long walk, then goes to his writing studio, just a few hundred feet from his home, and writes, writes, writes. Occasionally, he sees other writers who live in the Berkshires, like Styron. He also speaks with a number of people on the phone. (He and Harold Bloom go through stretches of kibitzing every single evening, often in a mixture of English and Yiddish -- "He knows a fair amount of mama-loshen," the professor happily reports.) But Roth has gotten rid of the Manhattan apartment he and his ex-wife shared. He kept only his writer's studio on the Upper West Side, which friends say he visits once or twice a week.

"He recently said something so perceptive about himself," says Plante. "He said he needs to see people, but when he does, he becomes very intense -- Philip's the greatest entertainer in the world. So he said to me: 'At a certain point, I can't bear my own intensity. I have to leave. I have to get back to Connecticut.' "

The exquisite solitude, the undivided rigor: Roth predicted all of this in The Ghost Writer more than twenty years ago. Back then, readers saw Roth in the young Nathan Zuckerman -- a horny, guilt-ridden aspirant visiting the home of his literary god, E. I. Lonoff. Today, Roth has moved into that house. And like Lonoff, he's living in self-imposed rural exile, spending his final days turning sentences around.

"He's transcended that low word career," says Cynthia Ozick. "He's the Ding an sich -- the thing-in-itself. That's what writers marvel at. Where does it come from? How deep is this well of character and incident? Who possesses so much of this? It's uncanny. After all, he's not a supernatural being. He's flesh and blood."


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