It came as a shock to fans and critics alike when Philip Roth, at the age of 80, announced he would henceforth cease and desist from the writing of fiction. After all, how could a writer who, for more than 50 years, had devoted his life to producing page after page of novels and stories that have never ceased to astonish — no one could break taboos and raise a ruckus like Roth; few could match his engagement with the Jewish experience in America or his dark wisdom in grappling with prejudice — wake up one morning and unplug the writing function from his computer as well as from his brain?
Did anything good happen in 2009? It’s hard to find the silver lining in this year of crisis and shame for the Jewish world — as hard as finding a likable character in “A Serious Man,” a film whose dark Joban overtones of unjust absurdity fit the zeitgeist perfectly. Hope was most definitely last year’s poster. We’ve had worse years, to be sure, but rarely have we suffered so much from wounds that were primarily self-inflicted.