Review

The Dying Animal

by Philip Roth

"Can you imagine old age? Of course you can't. I didn't. I couldn't. I had no idea what it was like. Not even a false image --- no image. And nobody wants anything else. Nobody wants to face any of this before he has to. How is it all going to turn out? Obtuseness is de rigueur."

Gentle readers, if you are one of those hapless Casanovas that loves women, and I mean women in all shapes, sizes, colors and inclinations, then this book is for you. If you are a dyed-in-the-wool Philip Roth fan who has matured enough to not become childishly squeamish at sexually explicit scenes rendered in an uncomfortable manner barely a notch above John Irving-esque seaminess, then this book is also for you. If you are an aging college professor with a penchant for seducing the nubile coed fillies in your charge, then this book is definitely for you.

THE DYING ANIMAL is a slim volume, told in mostly conversational manner (the premise is that the narrator, college professor David Kepesh, is telling his tale to an unnamed listener who speaks but a few lines at the very end of the tale). Skillfully weaving in what is essentially a brief history of the sexual revolution in America and all the repercussions that have since shaped our modern sexual landscape, the main plotline revolves around Kepesh's greatest love affair --- his obsession with a young Cuban woman, Consuela Castillo, whom he describes as "[a] good heart, a lovely face, a gaze at once inviting and removed, gorgeous breasts, and so newly hatched as a woman that to find fragments of broken shell adhering to that ovoid forehead wouldn't have been a surprise. I saw right away that this was going to be my girl." Of course, they begin a torrid affair, which, for once, completely undoes Kepesh and strips away the facade of the cultured, sophisticated academic and turns him into the eponymous title of the book.

There is, however, another dying animal in this story. As Kepesh discovers years after their affair ends, Consuela has breast cancer and is undergoing both chemotherapy and a mastectomy. (The time is ripe for the reviewer to insert various theories on Roth's objectification, demystification, and deconstruction of the body, but alas, time, space, and the fact that the college years have long since passed for this reviewer obviate the purpose of such analyses.)

THE DYING ANIMAL, is both pornographic and poetic, sexual and sentimental, and ultimately, a socio-sexual history lesson, a love story, cultural commentary, and dirty old man's fantasy all rolled into a pithy 156-page package. This truly is a book for the thinking man's lothario, and Roth, as usual, masterfully balances some of the most pressing intellectual issues of the past 50 years with the most pressing issues of the flesh that has faced man since time immemorial.

Reviewed by Mei-Ling Fong on January 21, 2011

The Dying Animal
by Philip Roth

  • Publication Date: July 9, 2002
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • ISBN-10: 037571412X
  • ISBN-13: 9780375714122