By Benjamin Svetkey
May 22, 2018 at 11:46 PM EDT
Credit: Bettmann/Getty

American author Philip Roth, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1997 for his novel American Pastoral, has died, according to The New York Times. He was 85.

Roth started out as an actor, while studying as an undergraduate at Bucknell College, and close friends raved about his gifts as a mimic. Portnoy’s Complaint (1969), a comic novel that made him world-famous and notorious in one explicit stroke, grew from the remains of an abandoned play to succeed, in Philip Roth’s own phrase, as a “psychoanalytic monologue.” Which is all to say that Roth became a great novelist by developing an innate taste for performance into an inimitable talent for theatrical prose. Roth’s particular mixture of the sublime and vulgar suggests the mental meeting of two of his heroes: the high-mandarin aesthete Henry James and the Boscht-Belt yuckster Henny Youngman.

Roth was born in Newark, NJ, and raised in its lower-middle-class Jewish neighborhood of Weequahic. The town would always be home-base for that dramatic imagination. The title piece of his National Book Award-winning debut, Goodbye Columbus (1959), is a novella about the affair of a striving Newark boy and a fancy suburban girl — the first flash of the writer’s ability to deliver acute takes on passion.

His other well-known works include the “Zuckerman” novels, collected as Zuckerman Bound (1985), Sabbath’s Theater (1995), and the trilogy of American Pastoral (1997), I Married a Communist (1998), and The Human Stain (2000).