Authors: The Unremovable Stain

Philip Roth's new book offers a bleak look beneath the surface of a self-satisfied nation

Short of homicide, how far will a man go to escape his background and reinvent himself as an unaffiliated member of the human race? If you are Coleman Silk, the gifted self-liberator in Philip Roth's new novel, The Human Stain (Houghton Mifflin; 368 pages; $26), you first tell your fiance that your widowed mother is dead when she is not. Then you tell your mother that she will never be allowed to see her future grandchildren.

It gets better, or worse, depending on your tolerance for this kind of biting humor. "You come to the railroad station in New York and...

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