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Book and Media Reviews
March 21, 2007


Author Affiliations

Book and Media Reviews Section Editor: John L. Zeller, MD, PhD, Fishbein Fellow, JAMA.

JAMA. 2007;297(11):1259-1263. doi:10.1001/jama.297.11.1262

As noted in the biography at the end of Everyman, Philip Roth is one of 3 American writers to have his complete works published by the Library of Congress while still living. Perhaps with having had such a taste of immortality, tackling the unpalatable and painful progression to mortality is a somewhat onerous and distressing process for Roth.

The novel begins with the family of the unnamed protagonist throwing dirt onto his coffin. The 2 sons of his first marriage have never forgiven him for abandoning them and their mother. The older son takes a clod of earth from his brother, who is incapacitated with ambivalence, and tosses it onto the coffin: “‘Sleep easy Pop,’ Randy said, but any note of tenderness, grief, love, or loss was terrifyingly absent from his voice.” We later learn that the protagonist—the novel's Everyman—experienced a cardiac arrest just after a carotid endarterectomy performed on an asymptomatic lesion, one of more than 10 medical procedures described in the novel. We then travel into his past. At age 9 years, he is admitted to the hospital for a hernia repair. The night before the surgery, the boy in the next bed dies amid a quiet flurry of grief, despair, and medical whispers. Next we skip ahead to a young Everyman with abdominal pain, the cause of which, his physician says, is envy but turns out to be a nearly fatal case of a ruptured appendix.

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