In Defense of Roth

I really wanted to like Levi Asher's overrated writers list because he knocks some of the same people we like to knock, but his criticism of Philip Roth is so completely wrong-headed, I'm a little baffled.

I think it all comes down to this:

Paranoia became Roth's central theme, and it permeates most of his novels, from Portnoy's Complaint to American Pastoral to The Plot Against America. Roth's paranoia is different from the cold high-tech creepiness of Don DeLillo or the proud anti-establishment defiance of Ken Kesey. In Roth's world, it's the ones we know best and love most who are trying to oppress and destroy us: our parents, our friends and neighbors, our lovers, our children. This is a harsh and depressing world view, and while I don't begrudge Roth the right to call the shots the way he sees them, I do not find his theme very universal. Even less do I find it edifying. This is why I find it difficult to agree when he is described as a great writer of our age.

Excuse me, if in this "If You See Something, Say Something" contemporary world, I find Roth's particular brand of paranoia and misanthropy not only edifying, but frighteningly relevent. The rest of his criticism stems from this basic complaint; Asher does not identify with Roth's view, therefore Roth's view is not universal. He goes on to say:

I must make this clear: I really do like Philip Roth. I just can't abide by the current meme that calls him a relevant spokesperson for our current time. I'm especially bothered by the fact that Roth is often called a representative voice for modern American Jews; I'm a member of that group, and Roth's bitter message of fundamental separatism does not speak for me.

I honestly think that if Asher could crawl out of his hole for half a second and take a look around, he would see a growing sense of persecution and betrayal, that extends from world events into the home and family. This is best represented for me in Roth's The Counterlife, when Roth's (or "Roth's") own brother becomes part of a militant pro-Israeli cult holed up at Masada and attacks Roth for being part of the problem and not the solution. We all tear each other apart all the time for ideologies, for sex, for money, for a thousand tiny things that we can never number, and this is something deep and fundamental and universal that Roth taps into better than, I think, anyone else. And it's something Asher just doesn't seem to understand.