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19.8.08

À mon chevet: The Breast

Philip Roth, The Breast
À mon chevet is a series of posts featuring a quote from whatever book is on my nightstand at the moment.
The Shakespeare edition I used in college -- Neilson and Hill, The Complete Plays and Poems of William Shakespeare, bound in blue linen, worn at the spine by my earnest undergraduate grip, and heavily underlined by me then for wisdom -- is on the table beside the hammock. It is one of several books I have asked Claire to bring from my apartment. I remember exactly what it looks like, which is why I wanted it here. In the evenings, during the second half hour of her visit, Claire looks up for me in the footnotes words whose usage I long ago learned and forgot; or she will slowly read aloud some passage that I missed that morning when my mind departed Elsinore Castle for Lenox Hill Hospital. It seems to me important to get these passages clear in my head -- my brain -- before I go off to sleep. Otherwise it might begin to seem that I listen to Hamlet for the same reason that my father answers the phone at my Uncle Larry's catering establishment -- to kill time.

[Laurence] Olivier is a great man, you know. I have fallen in love with him a little, like a schoolgirl with a movie star. I've never before given myself over to a genius so completely, not even while reading. As a student, as a professor, I experienced literature as something unavoidably tainted by my self-consciousness and all the responsibilities of serious discourse; either I was learning or I was teaching. But responsibilities are behind me now; at last I can just listen.

-- Philip Roth, The Breast (1972), pp. 79-80
This little book has a fertile premise and it rolls along on its narrator's alluring voice, but at the end it feels a little like Roth either lost interest in the story or saw that it was nearing the end of its potential. So the tale of David Kepesh the breast ends suddenly, but Roth returned to the character a few years later, going back to the beginning of Kepesh's life.

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