January Book Review

Nemesis

This month’s review is by Richard Bellikoff
Nemesis:
A Novel, by Philip Roth

Nemesis: A Novel, by Philip Roth

When Philip Roth announced his retirement from writing, I decided to read his final novel, Nemesis. It’s set in the steamy summer of 1944, in the New Jersey city that Roth calls “Equatorial Newark,” where a virulent polio epidemic erupts, striking down children. With the cause of the disease unknown, the residents are thrown into a panic. Roth skillfully depicts their steadily escalating emotional turmoil. Some of them are driven to question their religious beliefs: What sort of God kills kids? The well-paced narrative moves between the besieged community and a secluded summer camp where children are sent to escape the epidemic. I found myself continually reminded of the precariousness of our existence, as new plagues inevitably arise to replace the ones for which we’ve found cures. Roth also raises timeless moral issues of individual versus group responsibility. This book has none of the wild comic invention and sexual escapades of novels like Portnoy’s Complaint that made Roth famous. His precise, almost clinical language makes his tale all the more harrowing. Clearly not escapist literature, Nemesis is an absorbing reading experience, and a fine capstone to Roth’s long career.

CALL # STATUS: FIC Roth Fiction Section