MANHATTAN (CN) — Philip Roth, America’s pre-eminent novelist and a perennial candidate for the Nobel Prize, died of congestive heart failure Tuesday night in a Manhattan hospital. He was 85.
From his breakthrough novella “Goodbye, Columbus” (1959), which won the National Book Award, through his salacious novel “Portnoy’s Complaint” (1969) to the trilogy many consider his masterpiece —“American Pastoral” (1997), “I Married a Communist” (1998) and “The Human Stain” (2000) — Roth skewered modern life, particularly Jewish American life, with often bleak humor. Many of his works were set in his beloved hometown, Newark.
Among his honors were two National Book Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, two National Book Critics Circle awards, three PEN/Faulkner Awards and the Man Booker International Prize. Perhaps the only things that kept him from winning the Nobel Prize was the often salacious — some would say sexist — nature of much of his work, plus the strength of the work of other Nobelists of his generation who wrote in English, including Saul Bellow, Alice Munro, Doris Lessing, John Coetzee, Seamus Heaney, Toni Morrison and Derek Walcott.
As he aged, living somewhat of a recluse, he kept up a relentless pace, writing a novel a year until he announced his retirement from writing in 2012, the year after he was awarded a National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama.
“The struggle with writing is done,” he said. He retired to his homes on the Upper West Side of New York and a farmhouse in Connecticut.