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the take

Philip Roth's Q&A in ‘The New Yorker’ Is As Spontaneous and Revealing As a Book-Club Guide

Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin

Philip Roth doesn't (con)descend from his perch in the pantheon to talk to just any old magazine hack. Which is why his interrogator for The New Yorker's new seven-page Q&A — pegged to Roth's very spotty new book, Exit Ghost — is Oxford professor Hermione Lee, who wrote a (presumably incisive, or at least, friendly) biography of Roth in 1982. The result? Something between a process-heavy Poets and Writers profile and those handy back-of-book guides for book clubs.

"What is the appeal, the force, the inspiration of ghosts and haunting," asks Lee of the writer who's complained ad nauseam about readers asking him where he gets his inspiration. "You omit the most haunting ghost of all," Roth later chides, and by now, we've got the idea. This "interview" consists of a series of e-mail questions and answers, exchanged with little or no follow-up, constrained by conditions set by the author (if not, in fact, edited with his help) and omitting anything other than Philip Roth's interpretation of why his book is so awesome.

"How central to this novel do you think are the impossibilities and grotesqueries — and the possible benefits — of such generational crossings?" asks H.L. P.R. replies, "Absolutely central." So, now you know.

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