Now in his mid-thirties, Nathan Zuckerman, a would-be recluse despite his newfound fame as a bestselling author, ventures onto the streets of Manhattan in the final year of the turbulent sixties. Not only is he assumed by his fans to be his own fictional satyr, Gilbert Carnovsky ("Hey, you do all that stuff in that book?"), but he also finds himself the target of admonishers, advisers, and sidewalk literary critics. The recent murders of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., lead an unsettled Zuckerman to wonder if "target" may be more than a figure of speech.
In Zuckerman Unbound—the second volume of the trilogy and epilogue Zuckerman Bound—the notorious novelist Nathan Zuckerman retreats from his oldest friends, breaks his marriage to a virtuous woman, and damages, perhaps irreparably, his affectionate connection to his younger brother...and all because of his great good fortune!
About the Author
In 1997 Philip Roth won the Pulitzer Prize for American Pastoral. In 1998 he received the National Medal of Arts at the White House and in 2002 the highest award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Gold Medal in Fiction. He twice won the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He won the PEN/Faulkner Award three times. In 2005 The Plot Against America received the Society of American Historians’ Prize for “the outstanding historical novel on an American theme for 2003–2004.” Roth received PEN’s two most prestigious awards: in 2006 the PEN/Nabokov Award and in 2007 the PEN/Bellow Award for achievement in American fiction. In 2011 he received the National Humanities Medal at the White House, and was later named the fourth recipient of the Man Booker International Prize. He died in 2018.
Date of Birth:March 19, 1933
Place of Birth:Newark, New Jersey
Education:B.A. in English, Bucknell University, 1954; M.A. in English, University of Chicago, 1955
Read an Excerpt
"I'm Alvin Pepler"
"What the hell are you doing on a bus, with your dough?"
It was a small, husky young fellow with a short haircut and a new business suit who wanted to know; he had been daydreaming over an automotive magazine until he saw who was sitting next to him. That was all it took to charge him up.
Undaunted by Zuckerman's unobliging reply — on a bus to be transported through space — he happily offered his advice. These days everybody did, if they could find him. "You should buy a helicopter. That's how I'd do it. Rent the landing rights up on apartment buildings and fly straight over the dog-poop. Hey, see this guy?" This second question was for a man standing in the aisle reading his Times.
The bus was traveling south on Fifth Avenue, downtown from Zuckerman's new Upper East Side address. He was off to see an investment specialist on Fifty- second Street, a meeting arranged by his agent, André Schevitz, to get him to diversify his capital. Gone were the days when Zuckerman had only to worry about Zuckerman making money: henceforth he would have to worry about his money making money. "Where do you have it right now?" the investment specialist had asked when Zuckerman finally phoned. "In my shoe," Zuckerman told him. The investment specialist laughed. "You intend to keep it there?" Though the answer was yes, it was easier for the moment to say no. Zuckerman had privately declared a one-year moratorium on all serious decisions arising out of the smashing success. When he could think straight again, he would act again. All this, this luck — what did it mean? Coming so suddenly, and on such a scale, it was as baffling as a misfortune.
Because Zuckerman was not ordinarily going anywhere at the morning rush hour — except into his study with his coffee cup to reread the paragraphs from the day before — he hadn't realized until too late that it was a bad time to be taking a bus. But then he still refused to believe that he was any less free than he'd been six weeks before to come and go as he liked, when he liked, without having to remember beforehand who he was. Ordinary everyday thoughts on the subject of who one was were lavish enough without an extra hump of narcissism to carry around.
"Hey. Hey." Zuckerman's excited neighbor was trying again to distract the man in the aisle from his Times. "See this guy next to me?"
"I do now," came the stern, affronted reply.
"He's the guy who wrote Carnovsky. Didn't you read about it in the papers? He just made a million bucks and he's taking a bus."
Upon hearing that a millionaire was on board, two girls in identical gray uniforms — two frail, sweet-looking children, undoubtedly well-bred little sisters on their way downtown to convent school — turned to look at him.
"Veronica," said the smaller of the two, "it's the man who wrote the book that Mummy's reading. It's Carnovsky."
The children kneeled on their seats so as to face him. A middle-aged couple in the row across from the children also turned to get a look.
"Go on, girls," said Zuckerman lightly. "Back to your homework."
"Our mother," said the older child, taking charge, "is reading your book, Mr. Carnovsky."
"Fine. But Mummy wouldn't want you to stare on the bus."
No luck. Must be phrenology they were studying at St. Mary's.
Zuckerman's companion had meanwhile turned to the seat directly behind to explain to the woman there the big goings-on. Make her a part of it. The family of man. "I'm sitting next to a guy who just made a million bucks. Probably two."
"Well," said a gentle, ladylike voice, "I hope all that money doesn't change him."
Fifteen blocks north of the investment specialist's office, Zuckerman pulled the cord and got off. Surely here, in the garden spot of anomie, it was still possible to be nobody on the rush-hour streets. If not, try a mustache. This may be far from life as you feel, see, know, and wish to know it, but if all it takes is a mustache, then, for Christ's sake, grow one. You are not Paul Newman, but you're no longer who you used to be either. A mustache. Contact lenses. Maybe a colorful costume would help. Try looking the way everybody does today instead of the way everybody looked twenty years ago in Humanities 2. Less like Albert Einstein, more like Jimi Hendrix, and you won't stick out so much. And what about your gait while you're at it? He was always meaning to work on that anyway. Zuckerman moved with his knees too close together and at a much too hurried pace. A man six feet tall should amble more. But he could never remember about ambling after the first dozen steps — twenty, thirty paces and he was lost in his thoughts instead of thinking about his stride. Well, now was the time to get on with it, especially with his sex credentials coming under scrutiny in the press. As aggressive in the walk as in the work. You're a millionaire, walk like one. People are watching.
The joke was on him. Someone was — the woman who'd had to be told on the bus why everyone else was agog. A tall, thin, elderly woman, her face heavily powdered ... only why was she running after him? And undoing the latch on her purse? Suddenly his adrenalin advised Zuckerman to run too.
You see, not everybody was delighted by this book that was making Zuckerman a fortune. Plenty of people had already written to tell him off. "For depicting Jews in a peep-show atmosphere of total perversion, for depicting Jews in acts of adultery, exhibitionism, masturbation, sodomy, fetishism, and whoremongery," somebody with letterhead stationery as impressive as the President's had even suggested that he "ought to be shot." And in the spring of 1969 this was no longer just an expression. Vietnam was a slaughterhouse, and off the battlefield as well as on, many Americans had gone berserk. Just about a year before, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy had been gunned down by assassins. Closer to home, a former teacher of Zuckerman's was still hiding out because a rifle had been fired at him through his kitchen window as he'd been sitting at his table one night with a glass of warm milk and a Wodehouse novel. The retired bachelor had taught Middle English at the University of Chicago for thirty-five years. The course had been hard, though not that hard. But a bloody nose wasn't enough anymore. Blowing people apart seemed to have replaced the roundhouse punch in the daydreams of the aggrieved: only annihilation gave satisfaction that lasted. At the Democratic convention the summer before, hundreds had been beaten with clubs and trampled by horses and thrown through plate-glass windows for offenses against order and decency less grave than Zuckerman's were thought to be by any number of his correspondents. It didn't strike Zuckerman as at all unlikely that in a seedy room somewhere the Life cover featuring his face (unmustached) had been tacked up within dart-throwing distance of the bed of some "loner." Those cover stories were enough of a trial for a writer's writer friends, let alone for a semiliterate psychopath who might not know about all the good deeds he did at the PEN Club. Oh, Madam, if only you knew the real me! Don't shoot! I am a serious writer as well as one of the boys!
But it was too late to plead his cause. Behind her rimless spectacles, the powdered zealot's pale green eyes were glazed with conviction; at point-blank range she had hold of his arm. "Don't" — she was not young, and it was a struggle for her to catch her breath —"don't let all that money change you, whoever you may be. Money never made anybody happy. Only He can do that." And from her Luger-sized purse she removed a picture postcard of Jesus and pressed it into his hand. "'There is not a just man upon earth,'" she reminded him, "'that doeth good and sinneth not. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.'"
* * *
He was sipping coffee later that morning at a counter around the corner from the office of the investment specialist — studying, for the first time in his life, the business page of the morning paper — when a smiling middle-aged woman came up to tell him that from reading about his sexual liberation in Carnovsky, she was less "uptight" now herself. In the bank at Rockefeller Plaza where he went to cash a check, the long-haired guard asked in a whisper if he could touch Mr. Zuckerman's coat: he wanted to tell his wife about it when he got home that night. While he was walking through the park, a nicely dressed young East Side mother out with her baby and her dog stepped into his path and said, "You need love, and you need it all the time. I feel sorry for you." In the periodical room of the Public Library an elderly gentleman tapped him on the shoulder and in heavily accented English — Zuckerman's grandfather's English — told him how sorry he felt for his parents. "You didn't put in your whole life," he said sadly. "There's much more to your life than that. But you just leave it out. To get even." And then, at last, at home, a large jovial black man from Con Ed who was waiting in the hall to read his meter. "Hey, you do all that stuff in that book? With all those chicks? You are something else, man." The meter reader. But people didn't just read meters anymore, they also read that book.
Zuckerman was tall, but not as tall as Wilt Chamberlain. He was thin, but not as thin as Mahatma Gandhi. In his customary getup of tan corduroy coat, gray turtleneck sweater, and cotton khaki trousers he was neatly attired, but hardly Rubirosa. Nor was dark hair and a prominent nose the distinguishing mark in New York that it would have been in Reykjavik or Helsinki. But two, three, four times a week, they spotted him anyway. "It's Carnovsky!" "Hey, careful, Carnovsky, they arrest people for that!" "Hey, want to see my underwear, Gil?" In the beginning, when he heard someone call after him out on the street, he would wave hello to show what a good sport he was. It was the easiest thing to do, so he did it. Then the easiest thing was to pretend not to hear and keep going. Then the easiest thing was to pretend that he was hearing things, to realize that it was happening in a world that didn't exist. They had mistaken impersonation for confession and were calling out to a character who lived in a book. Zuckerman tried taking it as praise — he had made real people believe Carnovsky real too — but in the end he pretended he was only himself, and with his quick, small steps hurried on.
* * *
At the end of the day he walked out of his new neighborhood and over to Yorkville, and on Second Avenue found the haven he was looking for. Just the place to be left to himself with the evening paper, or so he thought when he peered between the salamis strung up in the window: a sixty-year-old waitress in runny eye shadow and crumbling house slippers, and behind the sandwich counter, wearing an apron about as fresh as a Manhattan snowdrift, a colossus with a carving knife. It was a few minutes after six. He could grab a sandwich and be off the streets by seven.
Zuckerman looked up from the fraying menu at a man in a dark raincoat who was standing beside his table. The dozen or so other tables were empty. The stranger was carrying a hat in his hands in a way that restored to that expression its original metaphorical luster.
"Pardon me. I only want to say thank you."
He was a large man, chesty, with big sloping shoulders and a heavy neck. A single strand of hair looped over his bald head, but otherwise his face was a boy's: shining smooth cheeks, emotional brown eyes, an impudent owlish little beak.
"Thank me? For what?" The first time in the six weeks that it had occurred to Zuckerman to pretend that he was another person entirely. He was learning.
His admirer took it for humility. The lively, lachrymose eyes deepened with feeling. "God! For everything. The humor. The compassion. The understanding of our deepest drives. For all you have reminded us about the human comedy."
Compassion? Understanding? Only hours earlier the old man in the library had told him how sorry he felt for his family. They had him coming and going today.
"Well," said Zuckerman, "that's very kind."
The stranger pointed to the menu in Zuckerman's hand. "Please, order. I didn't mean to obtrude. I was in the washroom, and when I came out I couldn't believe my eyes. To see you in a place like this. I just had to come up and say thanks before I left."
"Quite all right."
"What makes it unbelievable is that I'm a Newarker myself."
"Born and bred. You got out in forty-nine, right? Well, it's a different city today. You wouldn't recognize it. You wouldn't want to."
"So I hear."
"Me, I'm still over there, pounding away."
Zuckerman nodded, and signaled for the waitress.
"I don't think people can appreciate what you're doing for the old Newark unless they're from there themselves."
Zuckerman ordered his sandwich and some tea. How does he know I left in forty-nine? I suppose from Life.
He smiled and waited for the fellow to be on his way back across the river.
"You're our Marcel Proust, Mr. Zuckerman."
Zuckerman laughed. It wasn't exactly how he saw it.
"I mean it. It's not a put-on. God forbid. In my estimation you are up there with Stephen Crane. You are the two great Newark writers."
"Well, that's kind of you."
"There's Mary Mapes Dodge, but however much you may admire Hans Brinker, it's still only a book for children. I would have to place her third. Then there is LeRoi Jones, but him I have no trouble placing fourth. I say this without racial prejudice, and not as a result of the tragedy that has happened to the city in recent years, but what he writes is not literature. In my estimation it is black propaganda. No, in literature we have got you and Stephen Crane, in acting we have got Rod Steiger and Vivian Blaine, in playwrighting we have got Dore Schary, in singing we have got Sarah Vaughan, and in sports we have got Gene Hermanski and Herb Krautblatt. Not that you can mention sports and what you have accomplished in the same breath. In years to come I honestly see schoolchildren visiting the city of Newark —"
"Oh," said Zuckerman, amused again, but uncertain as to what might be feeding such effusiveness, "oh, I think it's going to take more than me to bring the schoolchildren in. Especially with the Empire shut down." The Empire was the Washington Street burlesque house, long defunct, where many a New Jersey boy had in the half light seen his first G-string. Zuckerman was one, Gilbert Carnovsky another.
The fellow raised his arms — and his hat: gesture of helpless surrender. "Well, you have got the great sense of humor in life too. No comeback from me could equal that. But you'll see. It'll be you they turn to in the future when they want to remember what it was like in the old days. In Carnovsky you have pinned down for all time growing up in that town as a Jew."
"Well, thanks again. Thank you, really, for all the kind remarks."
The waitress appeared with his sandwich. That should end it. On a pleasant note, actually. Behind the effusiveness lay nothing but somebody who had enjoyed a book. Fine. "Thank you," said Zuckerman — the fourth time — and ceremoniously lifted half of his sandwich.
"I went to South Side. Class of forty-three."
South Side High, at the decaying heart of the old industrial city, had been almost half black even in Zuckerman's day, when Newark was still mostly white. His own school district, at the far edge of a newer residential Newark, had been populated in the twenties and thirties by Jews leaving the rundown immigrant enclaves in the central wards to rear children bound for college and the professions and, in time, for the Orange suburbs, where Zuckerman's own brother, Henry, now owned a big house.
"You're Weequahic forty-nine."
"Look," said Zuckerman apologetically, "I have to eat and run. I'm sorry."
"Forgive me, please. I only wanted to say — well, I said it, didn't I?" He smiled regretfully at his own insistence. "Thank you, thank you again. For everything. It's been a pleasure. It's been a thrill. I didn't mean to bug you, God knows."
Zuckerman watched him move off to the register to pay for his meal. Younger than he seemed from the dark clothes and the beefy build and the vanquished air, but more ungainly, and, with his heavy splayfooted walk, more pathetic than Zuckerman had realized.
"Excuse me. I'm sorry."
Hat in hand again. Zuckerman was sure he had seen him go out the door with it on his head.
"This is probably going to make you laugh. But I'm trying to write myself. You don't have to worry about the competition, I assure you. When you try your hand at it, then you really admire the stupendous accomplishment of somebody like yourself. The patience alone is phenomenal. Day in and day out facing that white piece of paper."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Zuckerman Unbound"
Copyright © 1981 Philip Roth.
Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1. "I'm Alvin Pepler",
2. "You're Nathan Zuckerman",
3. Oswald, Ruby, et al.,
4. Look Homeward, Angel,
Books by Philip Roth,
About the Author,