If Simon Axler's loss of confidence in his acting ability is meant as a projection of Philip Roth's loss of confidence in his writing ability, then The Humbling should stand as an excellent example of it. The novel comes off more as a sketch of book, as if he'd written it as an outline of a more developed novel that was still to come.
This is a novel of man in crisis, and though we spend a fair number of pages in the thin book dealing directly with the subject, the book wanders into Axler's new relationship. This relationship, with the lesbian daughter of old friends, is at times cruel and superficial. Their scenes together, when not involving sex, are cursory. One scene, the parents' confrontation with the daughter, is simply told in dialogue from the daughter to Axler. Where the reader may have benefited from actually being there in what may end being a pivotal scene, Roth treats it as unimportant. And so when things change in the novel, we don't have a reason to care.
This is a disappointing novel by one of America's great novelists. Maybe Roth is writing too much these days. A book a year might be a pace that doesn't make for good novels.