Well, it had to happen. After two strong Roth novels, I hit a bad one. This novel is about an aging theater actor who has lost his ability to act (he thinks) and so he decides to have an affair with a lesbian thirty years his junior. That’s about that. And, yes, this was just turned into a movie starring Al Pacino & Greta Gerwig; that sounds like a joke, but it’s not. Anyway, I just found this one pretty inexplicable. There’s no real consistency to the characters here. Axler, the actor, never felt real to me and I never felt like I understood anything about his motivations; the lesbian he has the affair with is even less of a character – some people accused this book of being a thinly veiled sexual fantasy. I don’t know about that, but the female character really is pointless and barely sketched at all. There’s a strange subplot involving a mother fighting for custody of her children that seems shoved in for some sort of thematic reason, but it never coheres and never feels like it belongs. Roth is still a solid prose stylist, of course, and the book is short, but all in all, this one just felt like an entirely pointless exercise. Pains me to say it, but this is just barely average. Recommended against. 2 stars.
tl;dr – Roth’s tale of an aging actor is shallow, superficial, lazily constructed, poorly characterized and strangely muddled. 2 stars.