Books: Death Be Not Mundane

Philip Roth argues that dying erases individuality, but he's too unique a writer to be persuasive

Pity the poor body. Since philosopher René Descartes uncoupled it from the mind in the 17th century, it has been second banana. Storytellers have fetishized the mind and exalted it as the locus of character and the self. The body has been along mainly for the ride ever since, the mind's sherpa.

Philip Roth, however, is one of the literary masters most attentive to the body. He has written lovingly about its lusts (Portnoy's Complaint), its decrepitude (The Dying Animal) and the intersection of the two (a ribald graveside scene in Sabbath's Theater). In his slim, stark novel Everyman (Houghton Mifflin; 182...

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