Like Peeling Off a Glove

Reflecting on Philip Roth in Harper’s not long ago, the journalist Hannah Gold observes that few of the novelists she read during her high school years “captured my imagination and became my companion throughout adulthood the way Roth did.” It is a moist confession familiar to writers who recall clinging to Little Women in faraway childhood with similar ardor. Yet now, in full maturity, Gold sees this transfiguring devotion as touching on “questions of inheritance as a problem of influence.” And in pursuit of such spoor — directly as reporter, aslant as skeptic, but chiefly as admittedly recovering Roth addict — she recounts her impressions of “Roth Unbound,” a conference-cum-dramatic-staging-cum-fan-tour dubbed “festival” that unfolded in March of last year at the New Jersey Performance Center in Newark, Roth’s native city. Stale though it may be, she calls it, in a rare flash of sinuous phrase, “the physical instantiation of a reigning sensibility.”   What remains in doubt is whether her recovery is genuine, and whether she has, in fact, escaped her own early possession by the dominance of a defined sensibility. The latterday Newark events she describes mark the second such ceremonial instantiation. The first was hosted by the Philip Roth Society and the Newark Preservation and Landmarks Department, and by Roth himself, in celebration of his eightieth birthday. Unlike during the previous occasion, the 2023 honoree was now in a nondenominational grave at Bard College, but the proceedings were much the same as ten years before: the bus tour of Rothian sites and its culmination at Roth’s boyhood home, the speeches, the critical and theatrical readings, the myriad unsung readers, gawkers, and gossips. With all this behind her — three nights in a “strange bed” in a “charmless” hotel, the snatched meals of chicken parm and shrimp tacos —

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