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The Journal of English Language and Literature , Vol.65, No.3, 425 ~ 441, 2019
Jersey Boys: Philip Roth & Bruce Springsteen From American Pastoral to Born to Run
Ira Nadel
One of the more unexpected literary associations is that between Philip Roth and Bruce Springsteen yet a reading of Springsteen’s 2016 autobiography, Born to Run, reveals surprising stylistic and personal connections linking the two New Jersey-born artists. It begins with a shared artistic practice and the importance of discontent, if not anger, as a catalyst for their writing. Both are also disciplined performers committed to their work who developed similar methods that enhanced their writing, whether a novel or song. The influence of fathers and their parallel attitudes toward love relationships provides another point of intersection. An additional similarity is that in their late careers, they both consider mortality, the overriding feature of Roth’s last five novels, from Exit Ghost through to Nemesis, which Springsteen’s late albums and recent Broadway show exhibit. The “late style,”associated with a more focused and in some cases minimalist method, inhabits the work of both artists: Roth moved from the energetic and elaborate method of Operation Shylock or Sabbath’s Theatre to the more restrained Everyman or Nemesis. Springsteen moved from the raucous sound of the E Street Band to solo performances and a quieter sound. Place and its recreation is another singular feature of both writers, for Springsteen Asbury Park and Freehold, NJ, for Roth, Newark, NJ. That Roth read and admired Springsteen’s autobiography enriches their connections defined in part by the emergence of a shared “Jersey Style.”
Key Words
Roth, Springsteen, performance, fathers, reception
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