Everyman by Philip Roth

Regret, loss and aging. Three things that are universal to every man/woman on this planet.

There’s no remaking reality… Just take it as it comes. Hold your ground and take it as it comes. There’s no other way.” 

4/5 stars.
Hardcover, 182 pages.
Read from March 27, 2017 to March 28, 2017.

Mortality, aging, regret and loss are the biggest theme winners in Roth’s awarding winning novel. The unnamed narrator is an Everyman, just an average joe, who has not lived the most sin-free life.  The title of this book is taken from a 15th century play called The Summoning of Everyman that discusses the Christian concept of salvation and how it must be attained.

Our narrator is successful man with a family and long career in creative marketing. He is, however thrice divorced and, for the most part, it is of his own undoing. He just can’t seem to stay faithful. He is the youngest brother yet he is the one that is plagued with the most health problems. He is in and out of hospitals his whole life; from a hernia, appendicitis and multiple heart issues that plague him through his adult life. Some of his children hate him due to the fact that he has ended marriages and families just to pick up and start another one soon after. His driving life force and biggest hinderance is sex. His latest wife is young but inexperienced and ultimately unattached and unprepared to deal with the ailments of an aging man. Our Everyman retires to a home and despite trying to stay lively and busy he is surrounded by the imminent feeling of death, decay and regret.

The pain makes you so alone…We have a pathetic need to be comforted.”

As it becomes apparent that this latest heart problem is going to be the last of him he tries to make amends and find salvation in repairing some relationships with some friends and family.

Many readers were conflicted or disgusted with our Everyman’s lust for young women, Is he a disgusting old man or a withering old man trying to regain a sense of spark and purpose in his quickly declining life? The conflict in reactions is a necessary part of this story because Everyman is us. He is imperfect. He regrets and is afraid of dying. His vigor has been one way that he has defined his ‘aliveness’ and his life.

Many have considered this book partly autobiographical, as Roth himself was a second child and has had many failed marriages and is technically retired.

Regardless of whether or not you liked or appreciated the life of our Everyman, there are moments in this book everyone can sympathize with. Roth’s writing style is morbid and unapologetic, and honest. As well as literary in fashion, concise and engaging. The novel is not a caring piece on how to deal with the nuances of aging and dying but more of a reminder of certain futility in life and in death. A miserable approach, but a philosophical one.

Overall, this book will make you dread getting old but it will also help you appreciate how fleeting life. I would recommend this book to any literary fiction fans as well as those who have an appreciation for Roth’s work. If you are a first time Roth reader I would recommend starting with something a bit lighter, like Portnoy’s Complaint. I would also recommend this book for the older crowd but not for the dying.  There is a little consolation in this story.

And The Birds Rained Down by Jocelyne Saucier

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4/5 stars.
ebook, 176 pages.
Read from March 21 to 23, 2015.

I’ve now read three out of the five books for Canada Reads 2015. While I couldn’t get all of the books read for the debates that happened this last week, I will finish all five! I will discuss the choice of the winner and my collective thoughts on all five books in a post once I’ve finished them all.

Now, this book, is astonishingly beautiful. Death and aging are aspects of life that no one ever likes to discuss, admit or confront. It’s one of the few things that we have no control over in our lives, but for Tom and Charlie, two older gentleman, they choose to live the rest of their lives on their own terms and make the conversation of death a welcome topic of conversation. Tom and Charlie live out in some remote woods with no connection to the modern world, with their only companions being that of their dogs and two pot growers. Tom enjoys his drink, most of the time a bit too much. but he is charming and loves to reminisce, whereas Charlie is more reserved and keeps to himself a bit more.  However, things are about to change for the two men.

A curious female photographer, looking for their very recently deceased friend, Ted, surprises the men with her ability to get to their remote homes without alarming their dogs. She has come to document and photograph the remaining individuals who lived through the great and devastating fires that spread through Northern Ontario at the beginning of the century, an event which Ted had lived through and was quite reclusive about. Rumors, stories and her own detective work had finally brought the photographer to the right place but just not in time. However, the brief hospitality that she received was enough for her to return as Tom and Charlie were intriguing on their own. What ends up making the photographer a consistent returning visitor is the appearance of Gertrude, who is one of the pot grower’s aunts. Gertrude has broken her out of a psychiatric ward where she had lived her whole life. Gertrude’s story is extremely tragic, but she finally has the opportunity to live her own life. The men don’t know what to do with a woman, especially one that knows nothing about living in the woods, but they know they can’t let her go back to where she came from so they happily accommodate her. For Charlie, the appearance of Gertrude will change him forever and give him a new life and new perspective on death.

While originally written in French, the beauty of this book is not lost in translation. It’s easy to relate to the characters, no matter what age you are and their story is a reminder to us that it’s never too late for a second chance at life. However, in terms of Canada Reads, it doesn’t quite fit the bill for the theme this year, which is breaking barriers. The choices that Tom and Charlie make, to meet death on their own terms, really shows more determination than anything else. I suppose they do break some barriers in that they are choosing to live such a remote lifestyle, but I don’t think it’s enough.  So while this book has been my favourite so far, I am not surprised that it didn’t win and was taken out of the debate early on.

If you’ve ever contemplated your own mortality or position in life, then I would highly recommend reading this refreshing book.