Quotable: Philip Roth

When I went to see Chris Rock’s documentary, Good Hair, the other day, it got me thinking about how curly hair is written about in novels. The first example that came to me was Philip Roth’s The Human Stain. In the novel, Coleman Silk describes Iris Gittelman, the woman he’s going to marry, mostly in terms of her hair:

Her head of hair was something, a labyrinthine, billowing wreath of spirals and ringlets, fuzzy as twine and large enough for use as a Christmas ornamentation. All the disquiet of her childhood seemed to have passed into the convolutions of her sinuous thicket of hair. Her irreversible hair. You could polish pots with it and no more alter its construction than if it were harvested from the inky depths of the sea, some kind of wiry, reef-building organism, a dense living onyx hybrid of coral and shrubs, perhaps possessing medicinal properties.

Iris’s hair is significant, of course. Its curative property, so to speak, is that it allows Coleman, who has been passing for white, to have a convenient explanation for any kinkiness in his children’s hair.