Paul Bryant's Reviews > The Human Stain

The Human Stain by Philip Roth
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Oct 16, 2013

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bookshelves: assorted-rants-about-stuff

Note to all relevant parties : This book made me laugh and cry. I absolutely fell in love with the characters!


So I watched the movie, and I really shouldn't have. To quote Pope Pius VII, it sometimes makes you wonder if you're on the right planet. Anthony Hopkins plays an extremely white black man! And the ever-crushingly beautiful Nicole Kidman plays an illiterate woman who's a janitor! Yes! And we're supposed to take this seriously! And the actor who plays the young Anthony Hopkins looks absolutely nothing like him! It's so insane. I believe they take a lot of drugs in Hollywood, and this movie appears to prove it. Some of the loonyness belongs to Philip Roth of course. Because the story has the crashingly beautiful even though desperately dressing down Nicole take a shine to the 70-if-he's-a-day Anthony and wants to shag him a lot! And this is the same wish fulfillment fantasy that Philip Roth keeps on writing about in all his late books! Over and over again! This would be funny if it weren't for the many rothophiles running about telling us that he's the greatest living writer of prose and will soon be the greatest dead one too. Ugh.

Okay, I admit, the book MUST must must must be better than this wretched loony movie but I will never find out. I got Rothed to death years ago.* This Human Stain movie, it was just a one time thing. It meant nothing. I swear I'll never see it again.
Hey, maybe when I'm real old and creepy I'll turn into this giant Rothfan and reread all this stuff and be yelling "yeah, stick it to her one more time, substitute-Rothman, you know she's gagging for your 70 year old flesh". Ew.


this is a black man

this is a cleaning lady

I understand the team who made The Human Stain will be producing a biopic on Philip Roth shortly and that the challenging role of Philip Roth, which requires the actor to age from 20 to 70 has gone to

[image error]

* er... not quite - I did subsequently read Nemesis and since it wasn't anything to do with shagging it was really pretty good, in a Larry David way : "pretty...pretty...pretty good".

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Reading Progress

10/16/2013 marked as: read
04/21/2014 marked as: to-read
05/10/2014 marked as: assorted-rants-about-stuff

Comments (showing 1-50 of 60) (60 new)

message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

That really was some outrageously bad casting...

Paul Bryant The interviews describe him living a reclusive life and occasionally jaunting into the big city, but if he does I bet he keeps one hand free for the dictaphone.

message 3: by Manny (new)

Manny I can't quite explain why, but for some reason I really liked this movie. Maybe my inner 70 year old is hoping that, when the time is right, Nicole Kidman will fall for him. You've got to plan ahead.

Living in Cambridge, I can also report that it's not quite as far-fetched as you first imagine. We had a secretary once at work who was quite tasty, obviously not like Nicole but still not bad at all, except that she was completely crazy. I was aware that her husband was a much older professor type, but it was still a shock when he turned up one day at an office party. Looked like something out of the Lord of the Rings, long wispy grey beard and twinkling eyes.

And since then I've seen other examples, one of them even more striking. So you see it definitely can happen.

message 4: by [deleted user] (new)

Deciding whether a book is worthwhile by seeing the movie first is a novel angle on reviewing a book, kind of like looking through the wrong end of the binoculars and then bitching about how everything looks so teeny! Suppose it saves all that tedious reading. Suppose you could get away with just saying that you don't care for the author, and doing film reviews elsewhere. Anthony Hopkins was ridiculous casting to be sure, but as I remember, Roth was not credited as casting director nor as screenwriter. What you make ridiculous in your film review doesn't really emerge from the novel. Guess I'll skip the movie. Thanks!

Paul Bryant Yes, I know, it's wrong, but sometimes I take shocking liberties in my reviews, you should see the others. But I have read & reviewed Roth elsewhere.

message 6: by [deleted user] (new)

I don't think your film review WAS shocking, whatsoever. Just baffling and angry and a bit silly.

Paul Bryant Care to elaborate?

notgettingenough Isabella wrote: "My turn for "shocking liberties".
Tut, tut, tut, Paul! When you're 70 you won't say Eww anymore! Methinks you'll say Hmmm ! ;o))"

Oh, I don't think so. Paul's going to turn out to be one of those men who isn't afraid to grow old. Well...I think they exist.

message 9: by notgettingenough (last edited Nov 14, 2009 09:18PM) (new)

notgettingenough Isabella wrote: "But, for the record, I see nothing wrong with adults falling in love at any and let live. I do not automatically assume that they are together because one of the partners has a fear of aging. At least I assume it can be genuine? "

I'm misunderstanding. I didn't think we were talking about adults falling in love. I thought we were talking about the concept of old men needing to shag young women an attempt to negate what they are. I dare say in the movies it's always portrayed as love. The alternative, after all, would be to ask the audience to believe that young women are dying to shag ancient men for the sake of it.

Still, maybe it's true love all the way. Maybe.

I wonder if somebody's made this movie. A friend of mine is using an online dating service. The men all want one-night stand sex because my friend's up for it and isn't conventionally good-looking enough to attract more lasting attention. Lately she met up with somebody who put a lying description of himself up. It turned out he was way older than her desired age group. So, this guy is in his seventies and nothing like good-looking. Those very facts, however, made him see her as something desirable in a way that none of her other dates had. He had lower standards. Even though the sex isn't very good she's stuck with seeing this guy because he makes her feel attractive. None of the others did.

Maybe if all these movies/books were about old men and younger women who are too ugly for the average man to take a second look, they'd be believeable! But then again, I guess old men, or men who are going to become old men, really wouldn't be queuing up to see them...

message 10: by Paul (last edited Nov 14, 2009 11:53PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant I agree with that. Roth is peddling the academic version of the standard trophy-wife situation, whereby when a man gets rich & powerful enough he trades in his middle aged wife for a younger model. Happens all the time in certain crass circles, and it happens all the time to Roth's old protagonists. In real life the young women are after the money and the lifestyle so they make a bargain but it's hard to see what they young women in Roth's books are after when they shag the old professors, and here is where Roth for me leaves recognisable reality and enters into his own private fantasies, into which, it seems, many male readers are happy to accompany him.

message 11: by [deleted user] (new)

A book ALWAYS is its authors private fantasy, and if we READ the work, we obviously must accompany him or her, wherever they lead us. I find your analysis of both this BOOK, its characters and love and life superficial, cynical and simplistic.

message 12: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant When the author's fantasy is sexist and repulsive we must speak as we find.

message 13: by [deleted user] (new)

"Perhaps such secrets, the secrets of everyone, were only expressed when the person laboriously dragged them into the light of the world, and made them a part of the world's experience. Without this effort the secret place was merely a dungeon in which the person perished; without this effort, indeed, the entire world would be an uninhabitable darkness; and she saw, with a dreadful reluctance, why this effort was so rare."- James Baldwin.
Come now,Paul, which character is more sexist and repulsive, as per your analysis above- the man or the woman? Besides, a retreat behind political correctness seems a bit timid, particularly before such a repulsive, courageous and intelligent mensch as M. Roth. The characters seem more human and real to me than the fantasy you are spinning about the 'real world'. You are hereby banned from reading Roth until further notice, or until you get laid, whichever comes first.

message 14: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant Okay, I am banned. I had wished to lay before your court my previous travails with Mr Roth and also throw into the mix that he has undoubtedly written one of the great comedy novels of the last century, Operation Shylock, before which I quail. Unfortunately, it's not just the one book which makes me think (pc or no pc) this guy is really a rather sexist pig, it's every one I've read except Operation Shylock & American Pastoral. Anyway, I'm happy to accept your ban.

message 15: by [deleted user] (new)

I didn't think you would mind. American Pastoral is IMHO a great work.

message 16: by brian (last edited Dec 26, 2010 08:32PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

brian   even though i love you, paul, for your great musical taste and passion, i also kinda loathe you for judging a book BY THE FUCKING MOVIE THEY MADE OF IT!!!

but you're still alright.
merry x-mas you limey bastard.

message 17: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant Hey Brian - I do say, you know, that the book must be better than the movie.

But Sir, I perceive thee to be a damned rothophile.

Merry Xmas to you, too.

message 18: by Velvetink (new) - added it

Velvetink I nearly borrowed the dvd the other day, but it just didn't grab me - I think I got Rothed to death years ago too, even though I haven't added all his books I've read on GR. I'm really anti older man - younger woman at the moment..with my mother just passed all the women at my father's golf course are fluttering about him.

message 19: by Ian (last edited Jul 31, 2011 01:42PM) (new) - added it

Ian "Marvin" Graye Do I infer that you never eventually weakened and read the book?

I keep buying Roth in remainder stores for $6.95 a hardback, but I haven't read any since the seventies (I mean the decade of our lives, not mine).
I'll try to do one in my 50's.

I would never see the film of a book before the book, if Nicole Kidman was in the film.
I don't want to have to visualise a character as looking like her.
I can't stand her.
She is a sphinx without a mystery.

As for older men and younger women, I could never afford a younger woman.

message 20: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant no I did not reas this book, but I did read Nemesis; N Kidman used to be pretty good - in a great little movie called To Die For frinstance

message 21: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian "Marvin" Graye I saw Dead Calm when it came out and never forgave her.
My hatred of her is beyond the rational.

message 22: by Paul (last edited Jul 31, 2011 02:35PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant Dead calm is abhorrent. But, you know, I forgive people. They deserve a second chance. So when To Die For appeared, I was ready to salute a great performance. Then, years passed and Eyes Wide Shut, and later, Moulin Rouge, came out. So that was the kibosh for Nicole.

message 23: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian "Marvin" Graye Both of those films were bigger than her, fortunately.

message 24: by Velvetink (new) - added it

Velvetink I forgot to say Paul this review really made me laugh...imagining you old and creepy! Nicole has never grabbed me much her performances are a bit insipid - she's the same almost in every film. On the other hand it would be fun to see Anthony Hopkins play an extremely white black man! Drugs in hollywood or no I think that would be fascinating

message 25: by Paul (last edited Jul 31, 2011 07:42PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant Hi Velvetink - since you haven't seen the movie I added pictures so you can visualise the whole thing better.

message 26: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian "Marvin" Graye I liked Roth's early funny movies books.

message 27: by Velvetink (new) - added it

Velvetink haaaaa! what they didn't use makeup? I mean they gave Nicole a really big nose for "The Hours" but no blackface for here for Anthony???? oh right - I know blackface is close to illegal now but why couldn't they get a Black actor - plenty of them around or they were engaged in employment elsewhere...I guess the budget didn't run to makeup

message 28: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian "Marvin" Graye I haven't seen the film, but Coleman Silk is supposed to be so light coloured that he passed himself off as a Jew during his academic career.
So Anthony played a black man presenting himself as a Jew.
Nicole on the other hand has never stopped playing the daughter of a doctor who...I won't go on.

message 29: by Whitaker (last edited Aug 01, 2011 01:45AM) (new)

Whitaker Yeah, it's the whole "one drop" rule and the "passing for white" phenomenon in the US.

On that basis, she was black:
Anita Hemmings
Anita Hemmings

And so is she:
Bliss Broyard
Bliss Broyard wrote a book about her father's life, One Drop:
One Drop My Father's Hidden Life--A Story of Race and Family Secrets by Bliss Broyard

That's her black father on the cover.

message 30: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant The one drop rule, oh yes... on that basis we're all Irish.

message 31: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian "Marvin" Graye Paul, you're thinking of the one pint rule, hic.

message 32: by Velvetink (new) - added it

Velvetink I haven't heard the phrase "one drop rule" before although there are others in use in Australia I've heard often enough. Who are Bliss Broyard and Anita Hemmings in relation to this book and film? or are you just using those two as examples? I actually don't need examples though, just need to look in the mirror. :o

message 33: by Whitaker (new)

Whitaker Velvetink wrote: "I haven't heard the phrase "one drop rule" before although there are others in use in Australia I've heard often enough. Who are Bliss Broyard and Anita Hemmings in relation to this book and film? ..."

No, actually, just examples. They're not related. Anita Hemmings I came across when I was trying to find the descendants of Sally Hemmings and Thomas Jefferson. I remember a photo of a woman who looked as WASP as Barbera Bush and as a descendant of that coupling she was strictly black.

What terms do the Australians use? I've never come across those before.

message 34: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian "Marvin" Graye "The classifications such as half caste (half Aboriginal blood), quadroon (one quarter), octaroon (an eighth) became common language, and are still sometime used."

message 35: by Velvetink (new) - added it

Velvetink Oh right, I thought that "one drop rule" was an actual classification in the UK or USA, so it's just like the saying "a touch of the tar brush"?

message 36: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant it's an unknown concept in the UK... the largest ethnic minority in the UK is mixed race.

message 37: by Velvetink (new) - added it

Velvetink Ian wrote: "I haven't seen the film, but Coleman Silk is supposed to be so light coloured that he passed himself off as a Jew during his academic career.
So Anthony played a black man presenting himself as a J..."

I find like Paul that Hopkins was a bad choice for the role. It's not unknown in the past for light coloured Aboriginals or Black Americans to pass for Southern Europeans. Although there is no way Hopkins has that look but I haven't seen the film.

Paul was there any past legislation/Acts etc in the UK regarding race? (not including the Irish/Catholics which is a different deal) that gave rise to discrimination, segregation etc. I'm not up on that side of UK history.

message 38: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant the only legislation to deal directly with race in the UK was the Race Relations Act 1965 which outlawed all forms of discrimination on racial grounds. It was beefed up several times since then. Doesn't stop all kinds of racist stuff happening, of course. Was that what you meant?

message 39: by Velvetink (new) - added it

Velvetink No - that would be similar to our current Anti Discriminatory Laws - I was meaning earlier times, laws regarding segregation of certain races/religions ie like here (AU) or the USA. I had some feeling there was something in the earlier centuries when slaves were imported etc.

message 40: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant no, the only laws prior to the Race Relations Act 1965 would have been those concerning administration of the colonies and the slave trade, couched in entirely commercial terms. There was never any legal segregation in the UK.

message 41: by Velvetink (new) - added it

Velvetink OK. Thanks I was wondering because I hadn't come across any in my haphazard readings. I believe that because there wasn't it was a big factor in many people emigrating to the UK even prior to WW1. My only experience with the colonies is down under and don't think too much of the way we were administrated. ;o That gave rise to breeding out the Black for purely commercial ideals. I'm reading "Benang" by Kim Scott at the moment and while I am painfully aware of the Aborigine's Act and the Stolen Generation was not fully aware of all the subtleties of the law prior to the 1960's. ie Quadroons & Octoroons were not allowed contact with full bloods (natives) (who may be of the same family or kin) to do so meant risking separation, losing employment, your land, children and house,facing goal etc. Which meant having to "pass" as white in a society & many did so passing as some kind of European. It meant being constantly afraid of discovery and of shame the British laws implied by it. So while I haven't read "The Stain" by Roth perhaps I will add it to my list. It's also interesting that as there was no form of segregation law in the UK perhaps that colours the way the British now see race relations in other places. Just wondering if there is no comprehension of the pain involved.

message 42: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant I think the UK has lived in a magic bubble - which does not mean that we are all happy smiley citizens, far from it - see my review of Generation F and The View from the Bottom - but being an island we havn't been invaded ourselves for over 1000 years - unlike most European countries; also, since Britain was the colonial power, we laid the law down on everyone else; also, we had our racial exterminations in the dark ages, not in the last century. This leads to I think other countries' histories being seem bu the British as quite barbaric. Fro instance, the palaver about the great American Constitution and declaration of indepencdence, a nation conceived in freedom, and all that - when not only were their slaves in their millions at the time of the writing of these documents, but there were also massacres of indians being carried out, which grew into a genocide which appears to be brushed away to the very furthest side of American history. Another example - when yugoslavia broke up i was amazed and appalled to see the level of race hatred which boiled up. We may in the UK have very awkward race relations and immigrant communities are not exactly loved and celebrated, but at the same time the British National Party (racist fascists) are generally about as welcome as a paedophile in a nursery.

message 43: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian "Marvin" Graye Just a note to clarify the context of these "half caste" terms.
There is positive discrimination legislation that is available to defined categories of indigenous Australians.
There are some who believe that as soon as you have a drop of white blood in you, you should be disentitled to the support.
There are others who believe that as soon as you have a drop of indigenous blood, you should be entitled.
It's the politics of resentment at work.

notgettingenough Ian wrote: "It's the politics of resentment at work.

What do you mean by that?

I must say, I saw the MTC proudly advertise a production of Pinter's Birthday Party as all-indigenous, but those playing the roles between them weren't as dark as I am after an hour in the sun.

I have a friend who is outraged by references to Obama as black. I'd never thought about it before, but I can see her point. He isn't.

message 45: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian "Marvin" Graye When someone else gets a benefit under legislation or a positive discrimination program that you're not entitled to, the sort of people who phone up talk-back shows seem to resent it.

message 46: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant he thinks he is.

message 47: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian "Marvin" Graye I bet he would have had trouble joining a golf club in the sixties.

message 48: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant Hey, not, article here

By Ta-Nehisi Paul Coates ends with this :

Obama is married to a black woman. He goes to a black church. He's worked with poor people on the South Side of Chicago, and still lives there. That someone given the escape valve of biraciality would choose to be black, would see some beauty in his darker self and still care more about health care and public education than reparations and Confederate flags is just too much for many small-minded racists, both black and white, to comprehend.

Barack Obama's real problem isn't that he's too white — it's that he's too black.

message 49: by Whitaker (new)

Whitaker Well, it's sad but it's all about perception isn't it? People look at Obama and see a black man.

message 50: by Velvetink (new) - added it

Velvetink Ian/Notgettingenough; Actually here in Australia the $ benefits Ian is mentioning do not go on the colour of your skin as such. One has to prove by birth certificates going back several generations that you are descent from Aboriginal people. You can't go in with a tan and just say so. There also has to be documentation that you are accepted by one of the Aboriginal communities as a bona fide Aboriginal - it has to be authenticated.. The benefits go some way as compensation if you like for having country invaded, for discrimination, for the past massacres :
The benefits are not as great as most people imagine, and it's the imagination that spirals out of control and creates the resentment.
You have to remember that before 1967 Australian Aboriginals were not even legally people but merely fauna. No rights.

Even Native Americans had The Civil Rights Act of 1866 which granted citizenship although they could not vote until 1869(February 26).

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