This short novel is the story of one man’s death, starting with his interment at the cemetery, where his daughter and older brother offer reminiscences over the coffin; and then dwelling on aspects of his life within which the seeds of death germinated and grew. The man himself is unnamed—Everyman—and his death is no different than any other. At the same time, this death is different because the dead person’s narrative voice remains behind to tell the story.

As a young boy in his father’s jewelry store, he fiddles around in a drawer of old broken watches that his father has accepted as trade-ins. The boy is a dreamer, an artist. But he goes into the advertising business to earn a living, rather than pursuing his first love, painting. He marries and divorces three times, becomes alienated from his sons by the first marriage, and winds up spending his relatively affluent, but bleak, retirement years in a New Jersey condo, maintaining at least some contact with his daughter Nancy. Meanwhile, his brother Howie becomes a fantastically successful international businessman still married to his wife of 45 years and close to his loving family.

Everyman’s brushes with death begin when he is still a child admitted to the hospital for a hernia repair and his roommate dies during the night. As a relatively young man, he experiences a close call when he collapses and is found to have a burst appendix and peritonitis. Later, he attends his father’s Orthodox Jewish funeral, where the mourners actively bury the coffin. In 1989 he experiences a massive heart attack, followed by coronary bypass surgery. In 1998 he is admitted for renal artery angioplasty. The next year he requires left carotid artery surgery. The next, placement of coronary artery stents. The next, insertion of a permanent defibrillator. Finally, he learns that the right carotid artery has now become obstructed. During the subsequent surgery, he dies: “He was no more, freed from being, entering into nowhere without even knowing it. Just as he’d feared from the start.” (p. 182)


At one point the narrator comments, "Should he ever write an autobiography, he’d call it 'The Life and Death of a Male Body.' " (p. 52) This book is a short version of that autobiography. Philip Roth writes with cold accuracy about everyman’s missteps and rationalizations, his hopes and fears, and finally, the shattering of hope and realization of fears: “Just as he feared from the start.” He never strays far from the inevitably deteriorating body. He never resorts to the spiritual or transcendental. His post-death consciousness is strictly fictional.


Houghton Mifflin

Place Published






Page Count