American Pastoral by Philip Roth

Mike’s review

I expected this to be less Jewish (pacing–“or rich they seemed,” the use of the word “goy,”), but I was obviously quite wrong. If I had done any amount of homework or even speculated a bit, I probably could have figured it out though.

An engagement to an Irish-Catholic girl started and ended within a paragraph? Strange. Seems like that would be a bigger even in the Swede’s life.

What’s with Roth’s neighborhood hero obsession? Does “We knew all this because the mystique of the Swede lived on in the corridors and classrooms of the high school, where I was by then a student” explain it? I don’t think so. Cuz I grew up in a small town and we didn’t have these heroes, just older brothers we were compared to (well, I didn’t, but whatever).

This is a Zuckerman? I feel misinformed by the back of the book jacket.

“Why clutch at him [the Swede]? What’s the matter with you? There’s nothing here but what you’re looking at. He’s all about being looked at. He always was…This guy is the embodiment of nothing. [paragraph] I was wrong. Never more mistaken about anyone in my life.” Just tell me why I (or Zuckerman) should care already!

“The Weequahic Everyman.” Was Everyman a Zuckerman and I missed it? Wikipedia doesn’t make it look like it.

“Writing turns you into someone who’s always wrong. The illusion that you may get it right someday is the perversity that draws you on. What else could? As pathological phenomena go, it doesn’t completely wreck your life.” Would be better/truer spoken (possibly by Paul Schneider) than viewed in writing (I believe that may be irony, folks).

“[E]verything you say says either more than you wanted it to say or less than you wanted it to say; and everything you do does more than you wanted it to do or less than you wanted it to do. What you said made a difference all right, but not the difference you intended.”

How much are my children going to hate me and how much will I hate myself for it? I’ve changed. Will I offer perspective or be condescending? I know me, and the answer is more than likely condescend. Everything is so immediate and sudden when young, but now I know life just keeps going no matter what. There is no end of the world and everything takes forever. I feel really bad for the Swede. I hope he tells Rita to fuck off. It’s not easy to illicit that sort of gut-check empathy in me. Well done, Mr. Roth.

Roth’s woman-hatred comes out in small ways here, like “[the Swede should have] formulated strategy with a person less likely to kill herself if he proceeded other than as her desperation demanded. Answering the needs of a wife incoherent with grief, in no condition to think or act except out of hysteria, was an inexcusable error.” Using the word wife (especially in contrast with person, before, implying the possibility of male and correct) makes her an other, conjures image of the crazy-lady, as opposed to mother, which makes you say, of course she would be utterly distraught at her daughter’s disappearance. (This isn’t the best example, but I was thinking about it while shaving earlier and this is the first I noticed it since.)

Is Rita’s enticement to fuck real, a product of Roth’s women-are-whores complex, or a strategy of hers to confirm how despicable the capitalists truly are?

This is in a Pulitzer winner? “I’m guessing that it’s a size four. In a ladies’ size that’s as small as cunts come. Anything smaller is a child’s.” Really, since the Rita stuff goes nowhere, it should have all been taken out. This scene in particular was really ridiculous. I understand Roth wants to bring Levov back with his daughter at the end and Rita is a way to do that, but so would have an anonymous letter. The Swede could have speculated that it was actually from his daughter for a while and then probably speculated it wasn’t and then wondered who it was and who would keep her from him for this long. Really, better than this excuse to hate women openly.

Hellof bombs went off domestically during Vietnam. Don’t understand how people can deny violence/threat of violence efficacy. MLK looks easy and great (to power structure) when contrasted with the Black Panthers. The debate can exist as to whether violence is the right means to an end, but not whether or not it will get you to an end.

The back-of-book-jacket-summary-life-thrown-into-tumult-by-a-bomb-plot sounded so stupid and forced, but it’s handled really tenderly and is quite sad and effective and heartbreaking and beautiful.

To keep me interested and to not lose me with this rambling, topical stream-of-consciousness style is impressive.


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