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American Pastoral by Philip Roth
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Jan 20, 08

Recommended for: David Koresh, Roger Clemens, my asshole neighbor
Read in January, 2008

** spoiler alert ** Representative sentence, from the book's non-conclusion:

"However, while he had been at the table formulating no solution, she had been nowhere near the underpass but--he all at once envisioned it--already back in the countryside, here in the lovely Morris County countryside that had been tamed over the centuries by ten American generations, back walking the hill roads that were edged now, in September, with the red and burnt orange of devil's paintbrush, with a matted profusion of asters and goldenrod and Queen Anne's lace, an entangled bumper crop of white and blue and pink and wine-colored flowers artistically topping their workday stems, all the flowers she had learned to identify and classify as a 4-H Club project and then on their walks together had taught him, a city boy, to recognize--"See, Dad, how there's an n-notch at the tip of the petal?"--chicory, cinquefoil, pasture thistle, wild pinks, joe-pye weed, the last vestiges of yellow-colored wild mustard sturdily spilling over the fields, clover, yarrow, wild sunflowers, stringy alfalfa escaped from an adjacent farm and sporting its simple lavender blossom, the bladder campion with its clusters of white-petaled flowers and the distended little sac back of the petals that she loved to pop loudly in the palm of her hand, the erect mullein whose tonguelike velvety leaves she plucked and wore inside her sneakers--so as to be like the first settlers, who, according to her history teacher, used mullein leaves for insoles--the milkweed whose exquisitely made pods she would carefully tear open as a kid so she could blow into the air the silky seed-bearing down, thus feeling herself at one with nature, imagining that she was the everlasting wind."

I see that I now only have a little over 2200 characters left to finish this review. I once wrote in a paper in college something like, "Dostoyevsky never hesitates to say in fifty words what could be said in fifteen." Roth, apparently, never hesitates to say in 400 leaden pages what could be said in 50. Here, then, is the plot of the book. I went ahead and lopped off the superfluous 113-page first act (think frame story with no end frame).
Swede Levov is a Jewish kid in New Jersey in the 40s and he is good at football. He becomes a marine, eventually marries Miss New Jersey (a Catholic), inherits his father's glove factory, becomes rich. Swede has a daughter who stutters and eventually blows up a general store as a means of protesting the Viet Nam war, killing one person and later killing three others in a separate explosion. The daughter then becomes a Jain and wears a mask over her face and lives in filth. Later on, some new characters are introduced into the story and we find out Swede's wife is cheating on him, that he had an affair, et cetera. Therefore, the concept of the American Pastoral is a myth. The end.

Seriously, fuck this book. It's everything I hate about literature and nothing I like about it. That this book won the Pulitzer prize boggles the mind. That it won the Pulitzer prize when contemporary winners include works such as The Hours, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Empire Falls, and most recently, The Road makes me wonder just who Philip Roth has nude photos of.
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Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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message 1: by Missy (new)

Missy oh man, I so want to read this book now... but not really.

brain i would put this book on one of those lists like "wrestle a tiger" or "try crack."
It's like, you'd like to say you've done it because it sounds cool, but then you actually have to do it, and that's just masochistic/stupid.

Lostinanovel I don't think I understand why you hated this book so much. Because of Roth's writing style? Because the plot is simple? You say you like The Road but the plot there is even simpler. What is it that you hate about literature that is exemplified by this book? Or what is it that you like about literature that isn't here.

I ask because I am interested.

brain I'd argue The Road is as close to the exact opposite of American Pastoral as one can possibly get while still dealing with the concept of family.
Anyway, I had a long-winded reply earlier, but instead I'll just say I read for two reasons: to be entertained and to be enlightened. The best books do both; most halfway decent books can do at least one.
When a book does neither and is among the most arduous reads I've ever endured, what other opinion could I possibly form?

message 5: by Mary (new)

Mary Tibbs I loved American Pastoral, but your review CRACKED ME UP.

Lambert I have no idea why you hated this book aside from the lack of a complex plot.
You've taken up a lot of space and said nothing.

brain Lambert wrote: "I have no idea why you hated this book aside from the lack of a complex plot.
You've taken up a lot of space and said nothing."

Well said - half the review is a quote from the book. qed

Semeiotickled Wholeheartedly agree. I want my money and time back, with interest.

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