Asymmetry: A Mentorship Tale, With Surprises

Even if you had never heard a word about Asymmetry or its author, Lisa Halliday, before you started reading the book, it wouldn’t take long to realize that the figure at the center of the story is a version of Philip Roth. After all, Halliday’s Ezra Blazer is an elderly, very famous writer, Jewish, living on the Upper West Side, perpetually passed over for the Nobel Prize. Halliday changes a few details—Blazer is from Pittsburgh, while Roth always writes about his boyhood in Newark—but these amount to drawing a mustache on a familiar portrait: a gesture at concealment, rather than an actual effort. In fact, Halliday has not tried to disguise the Rothian origins of the character. In a profile in The New York Times , she acknowledged that the story of Asymmetry— one of the stories, anyway—is loosely based on her own romantic relationship with Roth. Halliday was a young woman working in publishing in the early 2000s when she met Roth, just like her character Alice, an editorial assistant at “Gryphon,” when she meets Blazer. By making this information public, an official part of the novel’s “origin story,” Halliday is not simply fanning the flames of readerly […]

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