Exit Ghost by Philip Roth
Advance and Retreat
by Philip Roth
Houghton Mifflin. 304 pp. $26.00
“An aged man is but a paltry thing,/A tattered coat upon a stick,” wrote William Butler Yeats in “Sailing to Byzantium.” Unless, Yeats added, “Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing/For every tatter in its mortal dress.”
Philip Roth used another phrase in Yeats’s great poem as the title of his novel The Dying Animal (2001). His new novel, Exit Ghost, is about a man aging in more ways than one and trying to sing himself back into the flow of life. But the most one can say is that in this case the endgame comes none too soon; for Soul in this book is simply not singing nearly loud enough to redeem the tattered coat that is its protagonist Nathan Zuckerman.
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