22 November 2006

ROTH, Philip - American Pastoral

Vintage 1998

Acquired August 2006, read November 2006

'American Pastoral' is indeed a massive read and has many of the qualities of a great book. It sets out to make a comment on post-war America through the life of an upwardly mobile Jewish man, the so-called 'Swede Levov', who was born and grew up in Newark, New Jersey. Far from painting a picture of material success leading to happiness (the American Dream), we see a pained father, super-heroic athlete of the 1940s and ex-marine, facing up to a pathologically delinquent daughter,unfaithful wife and domineering father. The young family's move, from the decaying inner-city (graphically described) to the 'Republican countryside,' enmeshes the protagonist in the absurd hypocrisies of 1960s bourgeois America. Every earlier certainty of life, as portrayed through the protagonist's father, a self-made glove manufacturer, disintegrate around him. The protagonist, though financially successful, is an emotional slave to his daughter, wife and father. His life falls apart under the pressure.

Like many good books there is a lengthy descriptive scene setting before the key theme of the book emerges. One criticism of the book, though, is that it just seems to end without tying up its own themes, as if Roth just got bored of writing it.

If you want to highlight the social and cultural shortcomings of America, then this book is indeed ammunition.

November 2006


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