Carlin Romano on Exit Ghost for the Philadelphia Inquirer:
You'd call it a pattern if it were not, across the broad scope of Roth's oeuvre, far more - a pathetic mosaic. In Exit Ghost, as in The Dying Animal, the falsest notes Roth hits are in orchestrating the young woman's psychology and dialogue, preposterously portraying her mounting interest in the older man. If you read the new book, note how many times we're told in He and She that Jamie laughed at a Zuckerman comment. Ask yourself if someone in her situation would.
How, hypothetically, would one review Exit Ghost if it were a first novel by an unknown? Conversational and readable, cliched in its larger plot, lacking fresh imagery or arresting wordplay, and unconvincing in the judgments it tries to shove down the reader's throat: that Kliman is a "domineering" jerk, that Jamie doesn't know what she wants in a man, that Amy remained satisfied with just four years of Lonoff because she'd had the privilege of being "in love with a great man."
As the umpteenth recycling of Roth's obsessions, Exit Ghost will doubtless draw Roth admirers to explore and celebrate it, connecting all the new dots to previous Zuckerman lore as if they were painting a portrait of literature itself. Less enamored readers may conclude that to the extent Roth possesses an imagination, it's an insufferable one.
Stylistically, Exit Ghost is something of a surprise: a reader acclimatized to the progressive sidelining of Zuckerman’s own life during the American Pastoral trilogy might take some time to get used to his newly rediscovered centrality – almost as if Joseph Conrad had followed Chance with a picaresque first-person narrative entitled The Adventures of Marlow. Nor is it a flawless work: for example, Zuckerman’s encomium on George Plimpton feels like an insufficiently fictionalized valedictory address; and for all Roth’s deliberate highlighting of “the theatrical emotions that the horrors of politics inspire”, Jamie and Billy’s growing despair as the 2004 presidential election results emerge (“The turn to the right in this country is a movement to replace political institutions with morality”) is rather a stolid and undramatized performance compared to the rage of Merry Levov in American Pastoral or Herman Roth in The Plot Against America (2004). But this is not where the novel’s interest truly lies; in fact, one passage near the beginning hints at this:
I started toward the subway to take a train downtown to Ground Zero. Begin there, where the biggest thing of all occurred . . . . I never made it to the subway . . . . Instead, after crossing the park, I found myself in the familiar rooms of the Metropolitan Museum.
One might read that change of direction as Roth’s resistance to the easier historical associations attendant on a post-2001 New York fiction: Exit Ghost’s focus is more on the smaller physical and emotional scarrings that are part of the publicly brutalized landscape. And if much of the novel plays old against new, with the present recapitulating the past, Zuckerman’s story highlights that terrible form of self-reference around which so much of Roth’s recent work has circled: the fact that ageing lampoons us all, makes us grotesque bodily parodies of ourselves. Where the Zuckerman of the early novels could be prodigal with his semen, now he just leaks urine, and the dignity of Roth’s writing, recalling the hard-headedness of his memoir Patrimony (1991), lies in his not sparing Zuckerman the indignity. The sound of time in late Roth is not that of a winged chariot but of a hospital trolley with badly greased wheels; and there are few American writers who write with such power of the loss of powers, with such command of the chaos that haunts and mocks every attempt at shape. Roth has one final indignity in store for Zuckerman: Amy’s brain cancer is killing her, and a reader eventually finds out that Zuckerman’s memory (the part into which so much of his being retreated during the American Pastoral trilogy) has begun to fail him, a revelation which lends a retrospective poignancy to some of the novel’s earlier moments (“I’d copied the phone number onto a piece of scrap paper on which I’d written the name ‘Amy Bellette’”).