Books: A Tale of Tough Cookies

THE GHOST WRITER by Philip Roth Farrar, Straus & Giroux; 180pages; $8.95

According to the cabbies of American fiction, Philip Roth has a great glove but can't hit the long ball. The fans will always yearn for the big shot that resounds with bulging affirmations and conventional wisdom. Roth even parodied this expectation in The Great American Novel (1973), a 400-page indulgence of his gifts for lampoon and mimicry.

That display now seems to have been a form of primal yuk therapy at the onset of middle age. Roth was 40 at the time. His...

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