Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Dying Animal by Philip Roth

First of all, a disclaimer: as a college professor, I believe personal relationships with students have always been absolutely out of bounds. Not everyone agrees with me, but for the 20-some years I have been teaching, this has been a hard and fast rule. Of course, the number of women who flirt -- believing this will help their grade -- is astounding. Recently, a woman tried this trick, and I knew exactly what she was up to, so I reported her actions to the dean, and kept him informed. When she was unhappy with her grade, she appealed the matter to that same dean and tried the same trick with him. So, I was vindicated in all respects.

Then, along comes Philip Roth and another of his vintage, raw stories of sexual relationships -- this time set in academia. Of course, David carefully cultivates these women all semester, and after the grades have been entered, he begins a campaign to bed the woman chosen from the year's students. As the book opens, he recounts one such student, with whom he begins a passionate affair described in the minutest detail. That about ends where I can go with the description of the plot.

While Roth writes with his usual talent for delving deep into the minds of his characters to ferret out the motivations and emotions they are experiencing, this novel definitely rates an NC-17 rating. If you can get past the frank descriptions, Roth offers a marvelous portrayal of an aging professor still searching for some answers to life's most enduring questions about love and relationships.

Actually, I don't mean to imply that every page has a graphic scene, but the ones that do occur are so powerful, they might as well come with soft lights and slow, smoky jazz. Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz portray David and Consuela in the film version titled Elegy. Netflix will allow me to compare the book and the movie. 4 stars for a rather unsatisfying ending.

--Chiron, 8/19/09

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