Philip Roth Has an 8-Year-Old Coauthor? And Other Notes From This Sunday’s Times.

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Nov. 19 2012 4:11 PM

A Few Necessary Notes on This Sunday’s New York Times

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Philip Roth is "collaborating on a novella, via e-mail, with the 8-year-old daughter of a former girlfriend,"according to yesterday'sNew York Times.

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Cast your mind back to Sunday brunch. Did the Hollandaise seem richer than usual? Did you detect extra zest in the OJ? Did you at any point wonder if someone had baked something funny into the scones? Sunday’s New York Times was highly entertaining.

Troy Patterson Troy Patterson

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

There was an obituary for Lucille Bliss, who voiced Smurfette and Crusader Rabbit. (Crusader Rabbit, recall, was the first made-for-TV cartoon and relayed the hare-brained schemes of a quixotic animal.) There was a full-page ad indicating that Baileys Irish Cream, a liqueur familiar from frat-bro shooters and grandpa’s coffee, is trying to act classy, pitching woo with a feminist-ish tagline and a honeyed blonde.

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There was on the front of the opinion section an amusingly horrible cri de coeur about the postmodern condition—an essay astounding in the junior varsity quality of its trolling and strolling down the cultural boulevard. Amazingly, the piece, which makes frequent use of the words “hipster” and “irony,” manages not to mention the March 1989 issue of Spy, Jed Purdy, Søren Kierkegaard, Susan Sontag, the relevant contribution of the n+1 dudes, or indeed anything beyond its author’s neuroses. Writer Christy Wampole is a French academic at Princeton, and the article feels as if we are occupying the head of a Franny Glass who has her breakdown not in the powder room at Lahiere’s but instead while snarking over vinyl in the polka section at the Record Exchange. Here is the meat of Wampole’s inner crisis:

I find it difficult to give sincere gifts. Instead, I often give what in the past would have been accepted only at a White Elephant gift exchange: a kitschy painting from a thrift store, a coffee mug with flashy images of “Texas, the Lone Star State,” plastic Mexican wrestler figures. Good for a chuckle in the moment, but worth little in the long term. Something about the responsibility of choosing a personal, meaningful gift for a friend feels too intimate, too momentous. I somehow cannot bear the thought of a friend disliking a gift I’d chosen with sincerity.

I’d like gently to suggest that you can never go wrong with a thoughtful flower arrangement—or, for the gents, a Brooks Brothers gift card.

But the awesomest thing in yesterday’s paper was a small moment in Charles McGrath’s exit interview with 79-year-old Philip Roth, who has announced his retirement. Roth gives good quote as usual, operating in his frequent mode of modified confessionalism. (“On the pendulum of self-exposure that oscillates between aggressively exhibitionistic Mailerism and sequestered Salingerism, I’d say that I occupy a midway position,” as he wrote in The Facts.) McGrath arranges a lot of fun details, including reading recommendations, canny self-reckonings, and the vision of Roth wielding an iPhone with the dexterity of a teenager loitering on Takeshita Street. But one sentence stands out:

[Mr. Roth] is collaborating on a novella, via e-mail, with the 8-year-old daughter of a former girlfriend.

I like the pregnant question of paternity almost as much as I like imagining what the plot of this novella could possibly be. Let’s review his novellas thus far. There’s Goodbye, Columbus, about waiting for your girlfriend to get a diaphragm; The Breast, about a man who turns into a mammary gland; The Prague Orgy, which is true to its title; and The Dying Animal, which peaks when the professorial protagonist greedily laps menstrual fluid from the thigh of his young Cuban-blooded lover. It’s pretty Kafkaesque up in that piece.

I’m gonna guess that this collaboration is more in line with Roth’s historical fiction and that the published work will refract the American post-millennial experience through the consciousness of Nadine Zuckermann, a Newark girl who wants a pony for her bat mitzvah.

Please suggest further Philip Roth YA plots in the comments.

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