Careful What You Wish For

Frustration and difficulty are an inescapable part of human life, says Dalrymple in a beautiful new City Journal essay that analyzes new novels by Philip Roth and Ian McEwen:


“The idea that mankind might find life beautifully easy if only the right laws could be promulgated and the right social attitudes inculcated is a beguiling one. It suggests that dissatisfaction and frustration arise from error and malice, rather than from the inescapable and permanent separation between man’s desires and what the world can offer him. Difficulty, however, cannot be abolished; it is the condition of human life itself. We try to avert our eyes from this truth as we avert them from death itself.

In different ways, Philip Roth’s Indignation and Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach force us to confront difficulty. Both are short, and both contain surprises at the end. Both raise initial fears in the reader that he will be subjected to a politically correct tract; both subvert political correctness in the end.”

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