Dara Horn nails it! I was the kind of boy who enjoyed reading Roth and Bellow when I was 16, and my mother read him religiously (pun intended). But part of my brain always knew the novels were trashy, in exactly the way Horn identifies.
Now Roth is dead, and in our current American culture, literature means little; the shared humanity that great literature inspires matters even less. What endures, sadly, is Roth’s lack of imagination, the unempathetic and incurious caricaturing of others that he turned into a virtue — and which now defines much of American public life. In the discussions since Roth’s death, we’re still talking about Roth, just like his works taught us to do. Yet in the years to come, the real meaning of his work will emerge not in how we judge Roth, but in how we judge ourselves.