Sunday, May 29, 2011

GUEST BOOK REVIEW by Carole Rosenthal

I give you a high recommendation of a book I read this summer in both gulps and sips, Robert Roth's HEALTH PROXY.  It's not a long book, but I found myself often putting it down while I thought about its ideas, even as I was gripped by its urgent self-questioning voice. Roth's observations about life and death, social and economic hierarchies, and the nature of our responsibilities to each other form a jittery, loving, and conscience-ridden record of his fierce engagement with the lives of friends and family from the 1980's to the present. "In ways deep and often constant, I engage other people's pain, their panic. Never letting myself fully be touched," Roth writes. "What at once shields me, simultaneously allows me to be open. But my openness also creates a constant state of low-level trauma that further creates . . . distancing in myself from myself."

Creating its own form, halfway between a memoir and a chronicle, this is a book of tremendous immediacy that begins with Roth's appointment as the "health proxy" for a friend dying of AIDS, a role he also assumes for his gravely ill aunt. A sixty year-old socialist/anarchist who consciously defies the limits of convenient labeling, Roth narrows the space between narrator and self--a space which can only be narrowed, never eliminated. For this narrator, all issues are intimate and personal; all issues are moral questions. Yet HEALTH PROXY is playful in part, or at least ironic, in its examination of what we see and how we are seen in large and small scale. The author discusses his low-status job delivering the largely unread New York University student newspaper, the hearty unrecognized condescension of academics reassuring themselves of their own good will towards laborers, the tacit institutional scams furthered by the printer and the distributors.  He introduces his own bemused reaction to his waning good looks, his health fears, his lusts for women, his identification with socially and sexually disavowed segments of society.  Despite the gravity of Roths central material, lives dwindling ("I watch myself age/before my friends very eyes,") while "friends socialize each other into old age," the real subject matter of this honest, unpretentious, freely associative book turns out to be an affirmation of  life ongoing.  In this more celebratory  vein,HEALTH PROXY concludes with a section called "Wild Berries Singing," which is about the writing and performing of an exhilarating children's opera in Great Britain. (HEALTH PROXY is available from Yuganta Press, 6 Rushmore Circle, Stamford CT 07905-1029 or

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