Tuesday, October 16, 2012

American Pastoral-Philip Roth

American Pastoral-Philip Roth

the facts
satisfaction: Up
pages: 423
gender: M
nationality: USA
year: 1997

Roth's protagonist is Swede Levov, a legendary athlete at his Newark high school, who grows up in the booming postwar years to marry a former Miss New Jersey, inherit his father's glove factory, and move into a stone house in the idyllic hamlet of Old Rimrock. And then one day in 1968, Swede's beautiful American luck deserts him.

I know Newark, NJ fairly well but the Newark I know is from the 1990s and 2000s and is dominated by Iberians. It is a city struggling to semi-rebuild and rebrand itself while shootings still occur on the sidewalks adjacent to a primary school. American Pastoral takes place in an older Newark-the beginning of Newark's downfall when it still remembered its glory days. Roth's evocation of that Newark is beautiful and tragic with strong prose. I have to say, that was above all my favorite bit of the book. The plot was good but I adored how the setting was brought to life. I also enjoyed the ramblings Roth went into about the process of glove making and industry.

I actually own this book and I intend on trying to hold onto it because I greatly enjoyed it. There are moments of great bewilderment (echoing Swede's) as you try to figure out how anyone could get into such a mess (the bizarre Rita character) and pain when you wonder how anyone could handle such a devastated daughter (nearer to the end). There are moments of pleasure and some very nicely turned phrases. And above all, I kind of adore books when the American Dream implodes for a white person so really, I was going to like this book no matter the skill of the author. It was somewhat hard to get into because Zuckerman is a bit of an annoying narrator in that he's constantly obsessed with Swede and likes to extrapolate from little information these grandiose ideas. It really got rolling when Zuckerman shut up and Swede's story was just let to unfold and implode and keep imploding and then it was quite difficult to put down. 

It's long and it's dense but it's masterful and I can now see why it's such a contribution to Roth's reputation (I've not liked my prior Roth reads). 

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