Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Everyman (copy)

How can this book be so heavy? It lies innocently enough in my lap, weighing less than a pound, yet feels more like a cold brick or slab of marble. Philip Roth’s Everyman has me perplexed.

This little novella wishes to convey a single simple notion—we live to die. Everyman’s fate, or every man, woman, and child’s fate, is to one day cease being. As Roth stated in an interview, “We all live to die.” This uncomfortable thought translates into a very uncomfortable read.

I read this book over two weeks ago. Struggling with its soberness, I then read the medieval play from whence the title Everyman derives. Can you believe reading the play just made matters worse? I was left with more questions than answers.

Here’s my problem. The play “Everyman” and the book Everyman share only two things: the title and a main character facing death. In the play, our Everyman tries to bargain with Death for more time on earth. In the book, the nameless main character, or Everyman, shuns religion and faces death alone. He doesn’t take comfort in pearly gates and angels.

I can identify with the play whereas the book leaves me anxious. The main character is really a jerk, and I worry about his soul. He faces death so utterly alone. This is silly, but I want to hold his hand. I want to give him human comfort.

Roth believes we all face death alone and his Everyman is utterly alone. At 71-years, Everyman has two ex-wives, three children, two of which do not speak to him, and a loving brother he has excommunicated because he is jealous of his health. He also displays a passion for younger women, who laugh at his advances.

The opening of the book begins with Everyman’s funeral. Here the reader meets all those associated with Everyman’s life. Yes, it is a small gathering, but not without a few weepers. Then Roth reverses the storyline and we meet Everyman before his death.

Roth tells Everyman’s story, from the first operation as a boy to his last operation as an adult. The timeline is based on his health rather than the traditional coming-of-age. This might be why I didn’t bond with the character.

After much soul searching and researching, I admit I like the book. Author Roth scrutinizes mankind’s acceptance of death and I am better for taking this journey. I’ll leave you a quote from the play, “O Death, thou comest when I had thee least in mind.”

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