Swearing off the drag of married life during the heady days of the 1960s sexual revolution, David Kepesh left his wife and son, choosing instead to reinvent himeself in the extistential freedom of an "emancipated manhood." In his 60s, Kepesh conducts an ordered life in New York as a prominent professor and television culture critic. A man of undiluted sexual appetites, his minor celebrity delivers him a fresh new crop of nubile coeds every semester. And then he encounters Consuela. The daughter of wealthy Cuban émigrés, she is volumptuous and beautiful--and she becomes Kepesh's obsession.
In short: this is not a book about the fantasies of elderly men, neither the protagonist's nor Roth's. It does Roth an injustice to read it in that way.
At first, the novel seems to be somewhat out of place with the other two books, adopting a voice that (presumably under the pretense of old age) is blunter and cruder than we might expect. Just as The Breast and The Professor of Desire end up becoming missives on topics far afield of sex and relationships, so too does this novel evolve, though amidst a far more sexualized backdrop than any of the others.
The tales and justifications of Kepesh's many "aesthetic" affairs are interlaced with the somewhat less-than-interesting saga of his relationship with Consuela Castillo, a story that only gains momentum as the novel reaches its end and the transformation occurs, revealing itself as a work far more interested in the concept of time, aging, and the inevitability of death.
It's not as tightly constructed as the other books, but it's fairly short and as readable as the others, and if you've enjoyed your first two forays into David Kepesh's world, it's doubtful you'll be wanting to miss the final installment.
It's not that I didn't enjoy it. I just don't know that I would have enjoyed it if I didn't know as much about Roth's background as I do. Because you see, it was based directly on a situation in his life.
That situation is basically that he's an old man but he still loves the young ladies. He is a professor at a major university, sets his sites on a Cuban girl in his class and begins sleeping with her. Eventually he does weird things like lick blood off of her legs.
The book is a pretty self-indulgent undertaking. It is clearly just him trying to make sense of the affair and an attempt to discern why it affected him so much. I don't think he quite accomplishes that but I did end the book feeling like I'd gotten some useful insight into his own life and how it's affected a few of his other books.
Overall : I would not recommend this to anyone who is just starting out with Roth. In fact, I wouldn't even recommend it to a Roth fan who hadn't read both The Professor of Desire and The Breast.
I suppose the book is at once a character study and a commentary on the evolution of western culture; both intermingle flawlessly. But mostly, it spoke to me of the inevitability of death. The main character ignores the reality and responsibility of his own mortal prison, but all that does is illuminate Consuela's story. It is in that light, her light, that we make out the shape of the animal that is David.
When was it that I too began to think of age in terms of how much time I had left, rather than how long I'd been alive?
I'd rate this five stars if it weren't for the nagging sense that the author had it in him to tighten up the narrative, pull out some of the historical musings, and focus the inner monologue. For whatever reason, he tied things up a little too loosely. Still, be careful. Don't ever underestimate Roth.