I Write: Philip Roth

This series gives thanks my boldest influences.


Dear Mr. Roth,

I am writing to thank you.

I am sure you find the above statement irritating.

I am sorry.

I am a young, Canadian Jewish female writer, all of which I wonder if you find a bit irritating.

I am so sorry.

Forgive me for being obvious but, Mr. Roth, you are the reason I write.

I am having a hard time being a writer.

I will not describe my current state because it is not worth the description but it does include a nicotine patch on my arm, a dark room and sensations in my legs that make me wonder whether or not my bottom half is even still attached to me.

Anxiety keeps me from focusing on my work.

I read your works for inspiration.  Particularly when anxiety-ridden.

I am painfully ashamed of being a writer.

I cannot do anything else with my life.  Writing is all I can do, all I love to, all I love, really.  Still, I know I will fail.

I won’t die. I know I will not die.

Perhaps from my previous description of myself you might have inferred that my parents are outrageously supportive and generous. My father cannot seem to help but support me. It makes me cry.

I will not die, I will not die from failure. I will merely hate myself because someone is supporting me and so I am failing him too.  Does it matter that I hate myself?  I do not know.  But it is certainly hard to get over.

I wonder if you hate yourself.

I do not know where you live (I swear, I have never looked) and so this might never reach you, though I hope the internet will progress to the point of it just appearing in your life somehow, projected on your wall or in your shower if we are being entirely creepy.

I do wonder what kind of doubt you attend to.

Your writing is remarkably confident, even in early short stories or as early as Letting Go, by the time Zuckerman appears in Ghost Writer, it is enviable how easily you appear to be certain of your authorship.

As much as I try I cannot mimic that illusion. Though, I have read all your books and continue to re-read them for the sake of regular appreciation.

I still wonder if you hate yourself.

I would like to just note a couple scenes from your novels that I think of daily, really play them in my head on a regular basis. In order:

  • The Chinese restaurant scene in The Human Stain
  • Faunia dancing for Coleman in The Human Stain
  • The threesome in Portnoy’s Complaint
  • That young girl (I can never place her name) masturbating with a cucumber in Goodbye, Columbus

There are others but they do not play daily.

The listed scenes play daily.

You have shaped my life.

You have shaped my craft.

Your construction of Faunia in The Human Stain is one of the most dynamic and compassionate, detailed depictions of a wasted woman that I have ever personally encountered in contemporary literature. I love her. I read that novel annually just to remember her and to love her again.

You can tell that I am single.  If not for fiction I would never know love and I do not mean because I read about it.  I mean because if the writing is authentic enough I fall in love with characters and as I read I reach elation. Consequently, I find most men to be incredibly boring.  The reward is still mystified but I raised myself on literature and I believe it has taken care of me.

Literature cradled my childhood.  I first read The Human Stain when I was twelve years old.  I did not understand it. I found it on my mother’s shelf and I read and re-read the scene between Faunia and the crow.  I was baffled by how easily the title appeared in text.  As a twelve year old, I thought it was authorial magic.  As a twenty-nine year old, I shrug a bit, there are way better passages in that book but, as a twelve year old, I bowed down to that passage.

I read American Pastoral soon after.  Again, I did not understand it but I spent months with the novel trying to decipher the very adult and personally political world of Nathan Zuckerman.  I failed.  Regardless, as an adult, it remains to be one of the books I recommend most to people.

I do not know anything about you, about your life, aside from your American Jewish background and some of your literary influences (but not really). I have never investigated your private persona and, frankly, I really do not care to know how you live, what you have lived through, who you are, why you know who you are, what gave you the right to craft such authentic fiction, what alerted you to your right, what keeps you writing, I know none of those things.

I would like to know but I think, if it does not come directly from you I might not even believe it.  You are somewhat of a hero to me.  Everything written appears as folklore.

If you feel like responding, should you wish to reach me, I can be found at rachelganz123@gmail.com.

Otherwise, this is just a thank you.

I know the world better because of the way you have written it. I have felt sick over the psychology of your characters. I have felt reward from reading the depth of their actions.

When I practice writing I think of two things: Lonoff turning sentences and you crafting voice.

Thank you for everything you have given.

Please keep writing,



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