The writer is named Peter Tarnopol and his autobiography is labeled a novel, but Roth has never seemed closer to the obvious facts of his personal history.
To heighten the feeling of veracity, he eschews the comic highs and lows of “Portnoy” for a more flat, almost essayistic style.
In his new book “My Life as a Man,” which deals with the operatically unhappy marriage of a successful young writer, Roth returns to the quasi‐autobiographical mode of “Portnoy” and “Goodbye, Columbus,” and the result is good enough to confirm the misdirection of the last three books, just as “Portnoy” revealed what was misting from the three that preceded it.
(A few pages on marriage in the fifties even appeared as an Op‐Ed article in The Times.) He calls this longest section of the book “My True Story” and precedes it with two previously published stories—one very fine, the other tedious and unconvincing—that fictionalize the ‐same material.
But the sequence is roughly chronological and can be read as a more or less coherent narrative, a single novel that plays internally (if not very consequentially) on the theme of life and art.“My Life as a Man” thus adds third part (and a third style) to the personal trilogy begun with “Goodbye, Columbus” and “Portnoy's Complaint.” Many earlier characters recur in different guises: Brenda Patimkin becomes Sharon Shatzky, daughter of Al “the Zipper King” Shatzky; Alex Portnoy's parents play recognizable parts as do that famous pampered boyhood and the sexual confusions that followed; even the cartoon‐like Dr.
This would be a dubious distinction had Roth's book not also boldly altered the tone of our confessional writing, most of which had been lugubrious and realistic, smothered in angst and high‐seriousness.
Reaching back instead to the raunchy, delirious autobiographical manner of Henry Miller and Céline—indeed, perpetrating an unseemly imitation of the Tatter's great “Death on the Installment Plan”—Roth pitched his anguish in such a low comic strain that the effect was irresistible.