April 12, 1993 12:00 PM

>Philip Roth


ASK HIM IF HIS NEW BOOK IS A NOVEL, and the author of Portnoy’s Complaint, The Breast and The Ghost Writer will firmly maintain that it’s not. “These events did occur,” he says, with an air of complete sincerity. “I did go to Israel in 1988 and meet the man I call [in the book] Moishe Pipik, who was claiming to be me, who looked like me, and who was proposing the loopy idea that it was more dangerous for Jews to live in Israel than anywhere else. I tell the reader that I’ve changed some names and details, and I specify when something is imagined—chiefly near the end, where I describe my fantasy of the death of this nemesis. Aside from that, I assure you I am not the first person in the world who has had an impostor going around impersonating him. John Guare’s play Six Degrees of Separation was based on a young man claiming to be Sidney Poitier’s son, something that did in fact happen.

“In Deception [1990], which I identify as a novel, the man involved in adultery is named Philip. Because adultery, as a subject, is so familiar, people have become blasé and sophisticated about it. But by naming him Philip, I implicate myself in the mess, and people respond more intensely to the deception, the games, the issue of sexual pleasure.

“As a writer, to engage your experience in fictional terms is one thing, to engage your experience directly is another. In novels, the adventures occur in language. With this book, I was dealing with an actuality that was preposterous. When life becomes preposterous, when life delivers you a Moishe Pipik, you use it.”

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