The Counterlife is about people enacting their dreams of renewal and escape, some of them going so far as to risk their lives to alter seemingly irreversible destinies. Wherever they may find themselves, the characters of The Counterlife are tempted unceasingly by the prospect of an alternative existence that can reverse their fate.
Illuminating these lives in transition and guiding us through the book’s evocative landscapes, familiar and foreign, is the miind of the novelist Nathan Zuckerman. His is the skeptical, enveloping intelligence that calculates the price that’s paid in the struggle to change personal fortune and reshape history, whether in a dentist’s office in suburban New Jersey, or in a tradition-bound English Village in Gloucestershire, or in a church in London’s West End, or in a tiny desert settlement in Israel’s occupied West Bank.
The saga of Henry and Nathan Zuckerman continues, 13 years after novelist Nathan Zuckerman first appeared in Roth’s 1974 effort, My Life as a Man. In The Counterlife, the dentist Henry suffers an unsettling—and for Roth, a predictable—side effect to his heart medication: impotence, which leads him to undergo an ill-fated operation. The multi-layered plot line travels from New York to London to Israel, while the characters undergo a series of surprising transformations. In the words of Nathan, a change in one’s life causes “a counterlife that is one’s own anti-myth.” It’s vintage Roth.