Books: The Varnished Truths of Philip Roth

His challenging new novel plays make-believe with reality

Some 30 pages into Philip Roth's new novel, a character named Henry Zuckerman comes up with a decidedly odd idea. The setting is Henry's dental office in northern New Jersey; the atmosphere shimmers with the sexual tension generated for weeks now by the presence of Wendy, Dr. Zuckerman's new employee. " 'Look,' he said, 'let's pretend. You're the assistant and I'm the dentist.' 'But I am the assistant,' Wendy said. 'I know,' he replied, 'and I'm the dentist -- but pretend anyway.' " This fiction seems indistinguishable from the facts of the matter. But once the artifice begins, so does the...

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