October 9, 2017

Philip Roth sits with his agent: A modest vignette


The morning of Thursday, October 5, 2017. Philip Roth sits across from his longtime literary agent Andrew Wiley. At eighty-four years old, Roth is once again considered a top contender for the Nobel Prize. They await the announcement of this year’s winner.


PR: This is my year. I can feel it. I didn’t drive in from Connecticut for nothing.

AW: [pause] Okay, Phil.

PR: Honestly, last year with Bob Dylan—totally ridiculous. Swedes are softies for sixties rock. Losing to Svetlana was another matter. Maybe I should interview some Chernobyl victims. Not that I’m bitter. I’m not a bitter man. And none of the complaints in my fiction signify chronic misanthropy… which could conceivably be analyzed via a self-referential author-as-narrator-as-character-as-subject… I’m not bitter!

AW: [coughs] Whatever, Phil. [coughs]

PR: They gave it to Modiano, you remember?, and he’s so introspective. Maybe once a decade it goes to someone like that. Munro — fine. Sure. Although I have a thing or two to say about the short story that I’ve been saving up for my Lecture.

AW: …Okay, Phil. It’s posted.

Wiley leans toward his computer, squinting at the screen.

PR: Well?

AW: Sorry, pal. They gave it to Kazuo.

PR: Ish?!?! They gave it to Ish?!?! Guy’s written seven books. Are you kidding me? Get me Stockholm on the phone. I wanna see if they can count to thirty-one.

AW: It’s not a numbers game, Roth.

PR: Not a numbers game? Fine. I wrote motherfucking Portnoy’s Complaint.

AW: Easy, Phil. Kazuo has some good books. We both know it. That Game of Thrones-y one? Great stuff.

PR: Listen, I’m happy for Kaz. I am. Still, I don’t know… isn’t it all just a little stifled? American Pastoral? Remember that one? Everyone fucking the wrong people. That is life. I had a guy fuck a sandwich! And what happens in Remains of the Day? Ooh — a butler can never quite get in there. How is that Nobel material?

AW: Redemption and restraint are in, Phil. Could be a Trump thing.

PR: A Trump thing? Ha! The Plot Against America basically calls this whole election. No credit for that, Swedes? They’d rather doll it out to freaking clones who are harvested for organs? Pretty sure I saw that on the Twilight Zone. Or, oh I don’t know, maybe FRANKENSTEIN?

AW: Not sure what to say here.

PR: Say that the Swedish Academy doesn’t understand the first thing about modernity. They don’t appreciate humor? The social significance of blowjobs?

AW: Phil, Phil, you can’t keep doing this to yourself. If you wanna win the damn thing, don’t give yourself a heart attack.

PR: We both know I’m going to live forever.

AW: Alright, Phil. Alright. So… see you back here next year? Same time?

PR: Obviously.​ ​Like​​ I’ve got something better to do?



Peter Clark is a former Melville House sales manager.