Patrimony: A True Story
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Patrimony, a true story, touches the emotions as strongly as anything Philip Roth has ever written. Roth watches as his eighty-six-year-old father—famous for his vigor, charm, and his repertoire of Newark recollections—battles with the brain tumor that will kill him. The son, full of love, anxiety, and dread, accompanies his father through each fearful stage of his final ordeal, and, as he does so, discloses the survivalist tenacity that has distinguished his father's long, stubborn engagement with life.
well as of the size of the tumor and the encasement of the facial nerve. “Will it grow back?” he asked. “I don’t know. I wouldn’t think so, but you’ll have to ask the doctor. We’ll make up a list of questions. You’ll write them down and you’ll take them with you, and then you can ask the doctor everything you want to know.” “Will I be a zombie?” “I don’t think Meyerson would propose the operation if he thought that could possibly be the outcome.” But could it not be? Of the fifteen percent
two nights before, the only bed in the apartment. After turning off the light, I reached out and took his hand and held it as you would the hand of a child who is frightened of the dark. He sobbed for a minute or two—then I heard the broken, heavy breathing of someone very deeply asleep, and I turned over to try to get some rest myself. Thirty minutes later, having taken no Valium, I was lying there wide awake, when, on the night table beside me, the phone rang. I grabbed it so that my father’s
causes paralysis, usually temporary, to one side of the face. The paralysis appeared, out of nowhere, the day after he had flown from New Jersey to West Palm Beach to spend the winter months sharing a sublet apartment with a retired bookkeeper of seventy, Lillian Beloff, who lived upstairs from him in Elizabeth and with whom he had become romantically involved a year after my mother died in 1981. At the West Palm airport, he had been feeling so fit that he hadn’t even bothered with a porter
once something happens, it may be too late to help him.” “Maybe it’s already too late,” I replied. By the next morning he still hadn’t urinated, and as he didn’t look forward to being catheterized any more than anyone else does, I told him to go into the toilet and turn the water on in the sink and sit there until something happened. He went in three times, and the last time, after twenty minutes, he came out and said it had worked. He made it work. After I had helped him get into his street
thinking that was how his parents had been buried and how Jews were buried traditionally. But as I said it I wondered if a shroud was any less senseless—he wasn’t Orthodox and his sons weren’t religious at all—and if it wasn’t perhaps pretentiously literary and a little hysterically sanctimonious as well. I thought how bizarrely out-of-character an urban earthling like my insurance-man father, a sturdy man rooted all his life in everydayness, would look in a shroud even while I understood that