'Exit Ghost' from Philip Roth

Alan Cheuse reviews Philip Roth's new novel Exit Ghost, the latest and last in a series featuring New England writer Nathan Zuckerman that began in 1979. In his final appearance, Zuckerman returns to New York City clad in diapers after living in seclusion in the Berkshires for more than a decade.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

The real-life novelist Philip Roth has written so often about the fictional novelist Nathan Zuckerman in so many books. The equation is irresistible -Zuckerman equals Roth. Roth has spent a lifetime warning people off the easy assumption that fiction is memoir, with the names changed just to protect the author and publisher from lawsuits.

And his latest novel, "Exit Ghost," is all about the gap between the writer's life experience and his art. It involves the characters who figured in Roth's 1979 novel, "Ghost Writer." In a moment, a conversation with Philip Roth about his latest novel.

First, Alan Cheuse has a review.

ALAN CHEUSE: "Exit Ghost" opens with a pathetic entrance by Nathan Zuckerman wearing diapers beneath his trousers and turning himself in for an outpatient procedure at a New York hospital. He's hoping the doctors can stem the incontinence produced by his prostate surgery. Almost immediately, our hero meets 30-year-old, married Harvard graduate Jamie Logan and lust flares up in his heart. At 71, the diaper-clad Zuckerman had thought desire a thing of the past. But here's desire again setting the tone for this exit from the Zuckerman series.

And here's Amy Bellette again, one of the original forces in Zuckerman's life. Bellette's now dying of brain cancer. As if this weren't enough, eventually, Zuckerman finds himself losing certain other powers. Despite the impotence heaped on his incontinence, Roth's hero - or should we call him every writer -eventually extricates himself from a mess, mostly of his own making, and remains compelling right down to the final page, where it's exit Zuckerman pursued by, what else, a rash, young woman.

SIEGEL: Alan Cheuse teaches writing at George Mason University.

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