Philip Roth’s affair with words continues with The Humbling. A short novel of 140 pages, Humbling promises to be three stories combined together that climaxes into a short novel.
Simon Axler is a 60 something theatre person who has lost his zeal to act. His wife leaves him and his position is best described as that of a wreck. Soon after, he seeks psychiatric help where he befriends Sybil Van Buren. It is much later in the book that we understand the role Sybil’s character plays merely after introducing herself and her rather abstract story that follows through the text. After checking out of the hospital, he forges a relationship with Pegeen Micheal, who has just gotten out of a lesbian relationship and happens to be his friends’ daughter.
The book climbs up the end with intermingling of Sybil’s impression on him and Pegeen’s memories. Through the course of the book, we see Axler deteriorate and rise- almost like a phoenix except this re-birth can only be attributed to Pegeen’s impact on his otherwise dead life.
Roth combines his wry prose with the kind of pathos that leaves the reader at awe of his brilliance with composition. Sure, Humbling isn’t his best work but that doesn’t stop me from saying Roth is the genius of our time and if not for the story line, his work commands some respect, that of producing a masterpiece and being unstoppable, unlike Axler. The description and the pain he takes to carve each and every detail- in the life of a theatre personality is applaud-worthy. All in all, this book is good light read, the kind that doesn’t leave you guilty.