Let us briefly recount the career of one of the most interesting and spiritually minded of American writers. Nine books of fiction, including a searing arrow of a novella, The Shawl, which ranks with Primo Levi’s haunted memoirs when we talk about books on the Holocaust.
If there is one sure curse in this world, it’s mineral wealth. Is there gold or diamonds or oil beneath the surface of your land? Then count on poverty, gross inequality and autocracy above. Of all the possibilities, coal is the worst, dirty in every way. When it’s burned, it fills the air with carbon, powering the global warming now unhinging the planet. But before that silent tragedy can take place, there’s a noisy horror—the kaboom of exploding mountains across the southern Appalachians.
"In my time,” one of Saul Bellow’s characters muses, “parents didn’t hesitate to speak of death. What they seldom mentioned was sex. We’ve got it the other way around.” No American novelist has written more candidly and aggressively about both than Philip Roth.
It was a cold, damp day of the kind that the Irish call summer. I’d paid my respects at the modest grave of William Butler Yeats and then meandered over to admire a narrow, windowless tower built to guard against marauding Danes a thousand years ago.