When She Was Good
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When She Was Good

3.46 of 5 stars 3.46  ·  rating details  ·  942 ratings  ·  86 reviews
In this funny and chilling novel, the setting is a small town in the 1940s Midwest, and the subject is the heart of a wounded and ferociously moralistic young woman, one of those implacable American moralists whose "goodness" is a terrible disease.

When she was still a child, Lucy Nelson had her alcoholic failure of a father thrown in jail. Ever since then she has been try...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published January 31st 1995 by Vintage (first published 1967)
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Michael
When She Was Good is an earlier Philip Roth novel that tells the story of a young woman who attempts to escape the entrapments of a troubled small town upbringing. Lucy Nelson's twenty two years of life have been comprised of an alcoholic father, a weak and dependent mother, and her own unplanned pregnancy by a man she claims to despise. Her sanity is tested throughout the numerous trials and hardships that life has dealt her. Whether Lucy can move past these debilitating events and find a happi...more
Jim
Man, I hate to give a Philip Roth book such a low score, but this time it would be unthinkable not to. Granted, this is early work and granted, after this he went on to write absolute masterpieces, but why did he even bother to write this inane drivel? Why did he write about such a hateful woman, a character he obviously despises, a woman with whom the reader cannot (ABSOLUTELY CANNOT!) sympathize at the end? Lucy seriously goes from being a normal, headstrong girl in small-town Illinois to a ra...more
Lori Summers
There’s an old metaphor about frogs and boiling water. The saying goes that if you toss a frog into boiling water, it’ll jump right back out, but if you put a frog into cold water and gradually heat it up, the frog will let itself be boiled alive because it doesn’t realize what’s happening until it’s too late. Well, I am that frog, and this book was the water.

In a post about a week ago I said that this book wasn’t particularly compelling and that I was just getting through it to make it to Portn...more
Pavel
"There was a little girl
Who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead;
And when she was good,
She was very, very good
But when she was bad she was horrid".

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


In this book there is a unique feature for Roth's prose - it has female protagonist. I actually can't remember another such book by Roth. His heroes are always perverted men, suffering from mismatch of the world they imagine for themselves and the real one.
Lucy, who plays main role in "When she was good" som...more
Анастасия Шартогашева
On the paperback of my edition there was a Stanley Elkin's comparison of Roth in "When Shae Was Good" with Dreiser - and it was perfectly correct. This book is another American Tragedy, similar to it in tense and the ability to stick the reader to itself and not to let go until the very climax. (No surprise in the fact that every American tragedy starts with unexpected pregnancy).

Clear, sensible, agreeable on every level, the viewpoint of the main character (Lucy Nelson) takes you to the long jo...more
Kamil
As a huge Roth fan, this book was extremely polarizing. For much of the book, I thought the characterization of Lucy was extremely weak, but the denouement of the book seems to salvage some of this for me. Much like Nabokov's Despair, When She Was Good relies on the unreliable narrator to move it's plot along, and this is an effective tool as we sympathize with Lucy but slowly begin to realize how damaged she has become. I'm not sure I feel like the ending was necessary, or even inevitable. Have...more
Jairo
Comenta con claridad y tremendo "insight" psicológico, el efecto destructor del odio no solo en la protagonista (Lucy) que lo siente, por su padre y su esposo, sino su efecto tóxico en toda la constelación familiar. La protagonista cegada por el resentimiento y el rencor distorsiona la realidad e interpreta aun los intentos sinceros de reconciliación del padre y de acercamiento emocional del marido como un intento mas de causarle daño. Por otro lado el abuelo se ha pasado la vida justificando to...more
Ubik 2.0
Prova d’autore
Nel leggere queste pagine ho avuto l’impressione che un Roth ancora artisticamente giovane si esercitasse nella gestione della trama e dei personaggi nella prospettiva inconsapevole delle opere mature dove il racconto si farà più fluido, la partecipazione più distaccata, il linguaggio e lo stile più consapevoli. E’ già stato fatto notare che diversi elementi tipici dell’autore sono ancora assenti in questo romanzo, il chè a mio parere non è necessariamente un male poiché a volte le...more
Lisa
A month after reading Philip Roth novels, I never remember his plots. I remember his characters, though, for a lifetime.

Lucy Bassart will be one that will stay with me for certain. In some ways, she could be labeled mentally ill. A control freak, she expected everyone around her to mold to her very strict (traditional yet non-traditional) moral standards. As the reader, even I sometimes felt frustrated with her steadfast refusal to suck it up and go with the flow. In other ways, though, Lucy cou...more
Gauss74
Mi piace molto leggere le opere del Roth giovanile, perchè ci trovo la sua perfetta scrittura e la lucidità d' analisi della società del suo tempo senza il bruciante e fastidioso cinismo dell'età matura.

"Quando lei era buona" è il terzo romanzo di Roth, e sublima la brutta esperienza del suo primo matrimonio: vista la portata dello scrittore il risultato non poteva che essere impressionante, per la precisione con cui viene resa la provincia americana degli anni cinquanta e per come il lettore n...more
cheeseblab
Yeesh! Did Roth's agent tell him to try his hand with midwestern goyim, and with a female protagonist? If so, it seems not to have been the best advice. Lucy Nelson is a prig, generous (well, blind) to her own faults, unforgiving of everyone else's. And true, the people in her life, from drunken father to icy grandmother to callow husband to vain sometime-friend, do not constitute the solidest of support systems. But golly, what a self-righteous whiner.

But at that, the novel doesn't turn unreada...more
Kristina
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nanci Svensson
This novel is an enigma to me. In fact, I feel when reading it that perhaps Joyce Carol Oates has taken possession of Philip Roth's consciousness by some gothic trick she knows, or, I find my self wondering, is he parodying Oates? I don't like this book, I don't like Lucy, I don't like the EFFORT TO NARRATE I sense so tangibly here. This, of course, is a very odd thing to dislike, and it is part of the enigma of When She Was Good that this effort, which Roth's authorship is based upon, is coming...more
Roger K. Miller

I half-liked, or liked half of, Philip Roth’s “When She Was Good.” For most of its length the story is compellingly told by an omniscient narrator with a ruefully sarcastic point of view. Roth neatly mocks the clichés, cant phrases, and shibboleths of the lower-upper working-class milieu of an Upper Midwest small city in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Its central character—not exactly a heroine—is Lucy Nelson, a high school girl grimly determined to rise above her semi-shabby family’s existenc...more
Laura
I read this book at the same time I read When She Was Good and Goodbye Columbus. They were all phenomenal. This made me want to start reading all of Roth's books in the order he wrote them, not just haphazardly as I had been.

You could hear the youth in his voice, you could sense the lack of cynicism (he's still cynical, but it's the cynicism of youth). But, that wasn't what made them great. They were great because they sucked you in, and you believed them.
Angie
I searched for more books to read that were like "Gone Girl," and this hit the mark. Great character development in Lucy. Although I initially felt sorry for her, the author successfully brings you around to hating her. Supposedly modeled after Roth's ex-wife.
Sam
I read this book as part of a project to finish all of Roth's books while also reading "Roth Unbound" about those books (and his life while writing them) by Claudia Roth Pierpont. It is not one of his best works. It's missing the wit and humor that makes his writing so enjoyable. The heroine Lucy Nelson flirts with being sympathetic but in the end is an over the top nut and her husband is too bland to counteract that. Reading about the book it seems that this was Roth's way of working through so...more
Liz
Reading this book felt like having a panic attack. But it was good.
Frank
Un Philip Roth inatteso quello che ho incontrato leggendo Quando lei era buona.

Infatti in questo libro da lui scritto nell’ormai lontano 1967 c’è tanto di diverso dalle altre mie letture dell’autore americano; si tratta del suo terzo libro e forse ai tempi non aveva ancora trovato il suo filone personale.

La cosa che più differenzia questa storia da tutte le altre è l’evidente mancanza assoluta di personaggi di origine ebraica in tutto il libro; di quella che diventerà una costante nei lavori fut...more
Aaron
Not Roth’s worst novel, but a troubled work nonetheless. I have heard this book described as Roth’s “Bellow’s novel,” that it was his attempt to prove that he could write outside of his own sociological demographic, a talent that was just not in the cards for him. One of Roth’s great strengths as a writer is an ability to explode his narcissistic interiors into an entire world, be it through the downfall of American liberalism* or the relationship of artists to their work. In Roth’s best work (a...more
Stefano Canali
Le storie scritte da Roth sono strazianti, e può sembrare che uno si faccia solo del male a leggere. Ma non è così. L'attesa della tragedia che — lo sai — arriverà permette in un certo senso di concentrarsi più sui personaggi che sugli avvenimenti. E nell'introspezione psicologica Roth è maestro: i personaggi non sono mai banalmente buoni o cattivo, sono figure dalle mille sfaccettature. Se è vero che emerge quasi sempre una figura (di solito protagonista) buona, nemmeno questa è esente dallo sc...more
Derek Ganzhorn
As I'm sure is true of many of you one here who have read When She Was Good or are contemplating reading it, I have been reading a lot of Roth lately and wanted to get a taste of his pre-Portnoy novels (I was thinking about reading Letting Go, but its length turned me off, or at least caused me to wait for a later day). This is not a great Roth book, but I would still recommend it, especially to those of you who consider yourselves Roth completists. It's a good read, and you will not be bored by...more
Alisea
Lucy Nelson ha avuto il padre alcolista e violento. Quando Roy e Lucy iniziano a uscire insieme, lui lo fa perché sta cercando se stesso, lei perché non sopporta più una madre remissiva e un padre ubriacone. Si innamorano, o cosi credono. Quando Lucy cede alle estenuanti insistenze, alle canzoni romantiche e alle parole rassicuranti di Roy, rimane incinta e, per rispettare le regole sociali, si sposano.
Non è un capolavoro:la storia è frammentata e ho trovato i personaggi troppo caratterizzati, e...more
Davide
Non ci sono ebrei, non c’è Newark, non c’è nessuno degli alter ego dell’autore né lui in prima persona, non c’è la passione per letteratura, non c’è il sesso (si va be’, c’è, ma è proprio tutta un’altra cosa!), non c’è la comicità tragica. C’è la famiglia, c’è la complessità dei rapporti umani, c’è la società americana; e soprattutto c’è l’implacabile volontà di andare fino in fondo, di non arretrare nella discesa nel gorgo delle persone e nell’allestimento di grandi scene di scontro e svelament...more
Richard
In all fairness, I shall note that under another name, this book might have gotten 3 stars from me, but coming late into the Roth game as I have, and then reading his work horribly out of order, to only now come to book #3 (3? is that all?), I found this one more of Roth searching for style rather than living it. There is something of Flaubert's Bovary mixed in with Dostoevsky's Idiot, and I am sad to say that my association isn't a high compliment, only because Roth has otherwise created charac...more
Cheryl Klein
My new infatuation with 1950s and '60s lit continues. This novel (the first Philip Roth I've read) is like 85 percent interior monologue, so it's good that Roth writes interior monologue well. In some ways, it's a traditional family saga about the legacy of dysfunction (although maybe that wasn't so traditional in 1967), but the structure is more wily. Roth's depiction of Lucy, a stubborn young woman determined not to relive her softhearted mother's marriage to an alcoholic, shows how being righ...more
Andrew
This was nearly unbearable by the end, terribly uncomfortable and spiraling so deep into insanity. I thought Roth failed at establishing what the hell Lucy's "goodness" consisted of. By the end, I felt like one of the other characters in the book, wondering just what the hell was going on in her head. That being said, it's an interesting case study in the development of an obsession with morality that mid-western America is oft stereotyped to possess. Roth sheds some light on where he thinks it...more
Alessandra
Un libro che alcuni considerano "morale" (se non moralista).
Uno dei primi di Roth, non si sofferma sulle avventure degli ebrei americani.
Per me si discute qui delle strane curve che prende l'esistenza, non ci sono intenti morali di nessun tipo.
Margie
A well-written and insightful but difficult emotionally. Definitely a product of its time in terms of painting the woman protagonist as the bad guy by sidestepping her own clear vulnerabilities
Evyn Charles
Another brilliant book by this great author. It tells the story of a midwestern woman whose strong sense of righteousness destroys everyone in her life.
It hit me personally and I was cringing during much of the reading because I was married to someone with many of the same characteristics; it left me wondering how Philip Roth could ever dream up such a person decades before my own situation!
One "unusual" note is that there are no Jewish protagonists in this story.
Once again, not an "easy" book b...more
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Philip Milton Roth is an American novelist. He gained early literary fame with the 1959 collection Goodbye, Columbus (winner of 1960's National Book Award), cemented it with his 1969 bestseller Portnoy's Complaint, and has continued to write critically-acclaimed works, many of which feature his fictional alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman. The Zuckerman novels began with The Ghost Writer in 1979, and inc...more
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