Well, I'm sorry Philip Roth has died. But thinking about him and his idiosyncratic take on the world he lived in reminded me of an incident from long, long ago in my must-spent youth when he was very nearly responsible for my early death.
It was summertime and I'd driven down to beautiful Lyme Regis. I was, I hoped at the time, a rebel, a risk-taker and experimental in my attitude to experience. In other words, I was an art student who'd read Jack Keroac, de Quincey and many others. And I'd probably understood very little. But on this day I had a little mescaline in one pocket, Keat's Endymion in another, and a copy of Portnoy's Complaint in my bag.
I settled on a cliff top overlooking a truly spectacular view and took the mescaline. I sat crossed legged with a notebook in front of me ready to draw my visions, or the seascape in front of me , or to write poetry.
Nothing happened. There were no imaginings of transcendental beauty, no incredible creativity, and no words of wit or wisdom occurred to me.
I began to get bored so I took Portnoy's Complaint out of my bag, propped myself on my elbows and began to read. Previously I hadn't been particularly entranced by a story about a young guy's wanking history but after about twenty minutes I began to laugh. Every word Philip Roth wrote struck me as so hysterically funny that I was rolling on the ground convulsed with unstoppable laughter.
A couple of ramblers very fortuitously interrupted me just me as I was about to roll off the edge of the cliff. I'd like to take this late opportunity to thank them for saving my life, and for the bottled water they made me drink; less for the lecture, but hey, life-savers don't have to be perfect.
And writers don't have to be killers. But. Philip Roth nearly was.