And yet, if Roth is willing to acknowledge the connection, he is insistent that such readings "fail to understand the nature of imagination, which is what the writer has. People think that when a character is angry, the writer is angry. But it's not as simple as that. The writer is delighted to have found the character's anger. Or his obstinacy. Or his unpredictability. It isn't that I'm unpredictable and obstinate. I'm just delighted that he is."
Perhaps the most useful way to think about it, Roth continues, is as a performance, in which he requires certain details, certain props, with which to work. One element feeds another, until the story reveals itself. "I don't know very much," he says about how he begins a novel. "I write my way into my knowledge. Then, if I'm lucky, I get a break. That's why it's so important to get started. Because however awful starting is — and it is absolutely awful — when you get into it, when you've got 10 pages, which may take two weeks, then you can begin to build." In the case of "Nemesis," it was Bucky's girlfriend who provided the breakthrough, with her desire to keep him safe. At other times, one novel has functioned as the fulcrum for another, shifting his entire body of work. This is what happened with "The Ghost Writer" (1979) and "The Counterlife" (1986), both of which represent significant turning points. "'The Counterlife' especially," Roth recalls, "jettisoned me into 'Operation Shylock' and 'Sabbath's Theater,' and then I was cooking on all burners and stuff was just coming out of me."