American Pastoral (The American Trilogy, #1) American Pastoral discussion


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Some books are too truthful for some readers

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message 1: by Paul (new)

Paul How can anyone give this book anything less than five stars? If people want an exciting vampire book, then they will be disappointed by American Pastoral. Come on people, use your brains and deal with difficult human problems. This book deals with so many of life's difficulties that it is hard to stomach because of its reality. The story of Seymour Levov stabs like a knife in any man's gut. Here's a guy who, on the surface, has it all. His family, through hard, hard, hard work has achieved the American Dream and then has it all evaporate before his eyes. He's a good man, maybe too good, and that's probably part of his dilemma. He follows the rules, succeeds and then has his own daughter fall into the dark side. Was it his fault? Is our children's missteps ever a parent's fault? Can we ever know the answer this kind of question? Life is rough but most people don't want to accept its roughness and dream that somewhere, some people have smooth sailing all the way. Its a lie. When Roth so eloquently portrays the difficulties of life, people react by running away and bad mouthing his writing. If you want a Harry Bosch type of book, stay away from Phillip Roth. He doesn't write fairy tales.


message 2: by max (new) - rated it 5 stars

max Paul wrote: "How can anyone give this book anything less than five stars? If people want an exciting vampire book, then they will be disappointed by American Pastoral. Come on people, use your brains and deal..."

I quite agree. This was the first Roth novel I read, and I found it remarkably compelling. It is a Greek tragedy, of sorts. Roth is easily one of the greatest contemporary American novelists, and this book is his magnum opus. Highly recommended. If you are a serious consumer of first rate novels, please make this your next book.


Nick Perakos so not to always agree with paul... but this book had some amazing complexities to the human character that gave a very realistic approach how someone today in their 60's would deal with real life problems that presented itself. I've read reviews of how it is a book of an old man ranting. well all I have to say is that old man rants are more intelligent than the majority of new authors are coming up with so why not pay attention?


message 4: by max (last edited Jul 18, 2012 05:55AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

max That's like saying Oedipus is about an old man ranting when he finds out the terrible truth about his identity and past deeds.

The story is deliberately constructed to cover a span of years in post-war America, the experience of the protagonist coming of age in Newark, his charmed h.s. career and the work ethic instilled in him by his family. His deep rooted belief in America, its seemingly limitless possibilities for success unravels in the course of the novel, and that is the whole point. It is searingly honest look -- as only a great novelist can project -- at the madness that was unleashed on American society in the 1960s.

The ultimate criterion of whether a novel succeeds or not is simply whether the author has told his story with honesty. Compared to the pretentious drivel that is cranked out by authors such as Don DeLillo and Cormac McCarthy, Roth is a genius.


Scott Smithson I think that American Pastoral is probably the best book I've read this year. It's definitely on my top 20. But, belittling people because they don't like it is probably not going to win it any fans.

And phrases like ultimate criterion used to disavow so-called pretentious authors is, frankly, hilarious.


Robert Corbett American Pastoral is Roth's truth about the 60s, but it ain't true. 4 stars.


Scott I started readiiing Philip Roth a few years ago. He is my most read author now. Each book makes me a bigger fan.


Agitatus see my blog entry:
xyvector.blogspot.com


Robert Corbett If you are writing fiction, don't you have to be just a little dishonest?


message 10: by max (new) - rated it 5 stars

max Agitatus wrote: "see my blog entry:
xyvector.blogspot.com"


Nice review. I would like to see this novel supplant some of the fluffier stuff that passes for literature in the modern h.s. curriculum. It is a shame that more students are not afforded the chance to read Roth, who is one of, if not the single greatest modern prose stylist. Between the gorgeous architecture of his sentences and the dramatic clash of traditional values with the counter-cultural sirens that have lured modern society ever closer to destruction, there is much to learn from this book.


Jonathan Peto I finished American Pastoral last week and was prepared to give it 5 stars almost to the very end. The ending, however, disappointed me enough to decide that it was not amazing. His detailed expositions about glove making and cows worked for me, but I'm not surprised others were turned off. I loved his alter ego writer/narrator, but again, I can believe that that might not work for everyone, especially since it was possible the narrator had made it all up and his speculations about the Swede's life weren't 'true' even within the world of the story.

Maybe I'd give it 4.5 stars if I could.

What Roth book should I try next?


message 12: by max (new) - rated it 5 stars

max Jonathan wrote: "I finished American Pastoral last week and was prepared to give it 5 stars almost to the very end. The ending, however, disappointed me enough to decide that it was not amazing. His detailed exposi..."

I would suggest The Human Stain.


Jonathan Peto Thanks for the suggestion, Max.


message 14: by Marc (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marc Nash I have always struggled with Philip Roth. Most of his books seem to share the same priapic Jewish male concerns with potency as Woody Allen, only without the gags (ie post Mia Farrow period Allen). But then along comes "Pastoral" and blows me out of the water. Simply a wondrous read. Forgive me American cousins, but your literary kinfolk seem obsessed with finding 'The Great American Novel', epic in sweep and theme and this book delivers. For post war America, it is only rivalled by Delillo's "Underworld".

Have you noticed how Roth's recent novels are getting shorter & shorter? He's still obsessed with potency though...


message 15: by max (new) - rated it 5 stars

max well observed .... Roth is definitely obsessed with sex and the horror (in his mind) of declining sexual potency. Sophocles was said (apocryphally) to have remarked about being happy to have his sexual urges out of the way when he was seventy. For Roth, the matter is viewed in the opposite way: rather than something to be happy about, impotence, or its pending arrival, is simply a living death.

As for Delillo, I tried so hard to read Underworld but was finally put off. I simply could not continue.

"The Great American Novel" is like the American Dream itself: a myth. In some circles, "American literature" is simply an oxymoron. How can such a work be created in a country that is not even 300 years old? Homer composed his works with several hundred years of oral poetic tradition behind him. The Aeneid came into being after Rome had existed (according to tradition) for more than 700 years.

"The Great American Novel" will have to cover a lot of ground. It will require a genius who can synthesize the sprawling complexity of American life, values and aspirations. The task may someday be completed successfully, though the notion that anyone living today is up to it seems laughable.


message 16: by Paul (new)

Paul Try "The Human Stain" by Roth


Robert See, I think a big (big big big) flaw of a lot of the arguments people make about this book is that they assume that every view presented in the book is that of Roth. I couldn't disagree more. For one, there already is a Roth analogue in the book, in the form of Zuckerman.
However, I think this gets to the core of one of the key themes in the book: the inherent unknowability of other human beings. To unpack the book in terms of the direction of its rants: The Swede spends more than half the book trying, and utterly, absolutely failing, to understand his daughter and her actions. He calls her insane, stupid, arrogant, and a thousand other words, and yet all she does is stare back at him, refusing to register whether any of his thoughts (which, again, compose the vast majority of the novel) are on the nose.
Taking a step back, then we have Zuckerman, who is the real brain inside of the Swede's head, as, after all, this is his (zuckerman's) novel. It is his attempt to get behind the disarming smile and seemingly complete lack of substance that are all that present themselves to Zuckerman. That is this book, and at the end, Zuckerman is left with a seemingly ideal view of American life, subverted, but the writer still will never know how close to the bone he hewed.
And then there is Roth, the real writer. Perhaps he's trying to dissect the 60s, have so many has said, maybe he's yearning for that real pastoral we see as the ideal, and of course there is the real Swede, Seymour Masin, a man we can assume Roth knew as little about as Zuckerman did of the true fake Swede.
So, in this Roth as Zuckerman as Swede as Merry story, I think it's a little simplistic to understand it purely as the views of any one of those people. Identities overlap, get their wires crossed, and emerge with bits of one another welded on. There is no clear truth to any of these characters, no obvious moments of clarity. The readers are left guessing about merry, as Zuckerman is about the Swede. Even if we spent 900 pages with these characters, we're no closer to knowing them, to understanding them, than we were at page 1.
And that's why it's a great book.


message 18: by Paul (new)

Paul Robert wrote: "See, I think a big (big big big) flaw of a lot of the arguments people make about this book is that they assume that every view presented in the book is that of Roth. I couldn't disagree more. Fo..."

Robert wrote: "American Pastoral is Roth's truth about the 60s, but it ain't true. 4 stars."

Robert wrote: "American Pastoral is Roth's truth about the 60s, but it ain't true. 4 stars."

I disagree. I think most people have forgotten what the late 60's were really like. We've characterized these years as the Woodstock, free love, summer of love times. Nothing could be further from the truth. This was the most disruptive civil time since the Civil War. I suggest you read the book, "Nixonland"to get a refresher course in what things were really like. The book is totally shocking in the relating of the violence that occurred all over the US during this period. In light of the mental state of all of the anti-war people at this time, Merry's behavior is completely understandable. However, those on the Nixonian side, Swede for example, her behavior is totally incomprehensible.


Robert Well, that's not really my point. Plus, those are two different Robert's there.
My point is this: to simplify this book by considering it Roth's views on the 60s would be doing a great disservice to the way he uses those views and those events (which, it should be noted, are largely fictionalized for the sake of the story, i.e. not nearly so many bombings in real life as in the book) to address larger themes. That's what great literature is. It's the same as addressing Blood Meridian as an anti-imperialism book. Sure, in it's pure violence the book could be considered that, but truthfully there's just so much else going on, from it's discussions of good, evil, knowledge, truth, worth, etc, that to pigeonhole it as being about just one thing completely de-emphasizes just what makes it a classic book.
I thought about American Pastoral a lot when I finished reading it a couple months ago. A simple anti-60s rant wouldn't do that (hell, read any columnist published regularly that espouses conservative viewpoints and you're going to get into that eventually), but a book with as many layers, surface and otherwise, as American Pastoral shouldn't be read as simply one thing. Cause, well, that ain't true.


message 20: by Paul (new)

Paul Yes, I agree with your point. I was just objecting to the statement that the book was not an accurate portrayal of the sixties. It was. The number of bombings during those years between 1967-74 was in the thousands. I don't know how old you are but if you were conscious at that time, the times were terrifying. That's why I suggested the book, "Nixonland." The split of the Country at that time was catastrophic and the thesis of Nixonland is that the polarization of our present times began during this time and has only gotten deeper. American Pastoral had so many layers and that was one of the reasons it was so wonderful. The sixty's aspect was just a metaphor for the split that occurs in a family's history.


Robert I'll have to check that out (after the roughly one thousand other books on my list/in my house), but according to the research I've done (both in my free time and for classes), Roth absolutely overplays the role the Weather Underground in most bombings, as they were only ever directly implicated in a few. But hey, it's fiction, so fictionalizations aren't exactly out of place.


Robert Corbett Other Robert here: what I objected to as "not the 60s" was 1) the trajectory of Swede's daughter. If she was supposed to be a rich kid who joined the underground, it happens all too soon and too easily. More generally, there isn't much of any sympathy for why Weehauken, Roth's Wessex, goes to pot. A good novel can be wildly subjective, but with AP, Roth starts to sound like a bratty Bellow. (And the character of Swede, the nice Jewish boy as an Paul Bunyan, is, to be blunt, boring.) A better chronicle of Roth's America is Sabbath's Theater.


message 23: by Marc (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marc Nash forgive me, but to a Brit, I found AP masterful in its sweep of post-war America.


caroline Jonathan wrote: "I finished American Pastoral last week and was prepared to give it 5 stars almost to the very end. The ending, however, disappointed me enough to decide that it was not amazing. His detailed exposi..."

I have to say that if I'd read your comment immediately after finishing the book I would have completely agreed with you. I threw it face down on the floor in frustration and left it there. But each time I walked by it seemed to call to me. I couldn't get it out of my head, so I read the ending again.
We never know the truth about anyone, perhaps not even ourselves- perhaps mostly not ourselves. Each of Roth's characters (pick one) can be labeled as one dimensional (the beauty queen, the class novelist, the wasp rich boy, the black forewoman) but are complicated by countless influences- as are we- not the least of which is our place in time.


message 25: by Lisa (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lisa Paul wrote: "How can anyone give this book anything less than five stars? If people want an exciting vampire book, then they will be disappointed by American Pastoral. Come on people, use your brains and deal..."

That's a little-more than a little-arrogant, IMO. There are lots of reasons to be less than enthralled with this book. I read it and while I found it engrossing, the endless, dense prose was overdone in a lot of spots and the characters extreme and, except for Seymour and his wife, not all that believable. Good book, definitely thought provoking...but not five stars.


Darkpandora Paul wrote: "How can anyone give this book anything less than five stars? If people want an exciting vampire book, then they will be disappointed by American Pastoral. Come on people, use your brains and deal..."

Hi Paul,

I'm one of those who did not like American Pastoral. I've read it three times: I had to study it.

It is not because the facts are too hard to stomach. I just don't enjoy his style too much. I can't say I hated it, and there were even parts that I liked (the factory part, the hamster-skin coat, the Johnny Apple-Seed part...). But I found many parts repetitive and boring and it made it seem like I would never reach the end... And unfortunately the successive readings did not make me change my mind.

So, no, I cannot give it 5 stars.


Patty Simpson I agree with Lisa's comments.

It's about the 3rd or 4th of Roth's books that I've read and I think he's a brilliant writer. But this one, well, I was disappointed - it made me think that Roth has passed his prime.

It was reasonably compelling, but there was just sooooo much narration - so many, many words hashing over and over and over the same stuff. If he didn't use language so well, I'd have put it down half way through.


Robert Corbett You get to the heart of my problem, Patty. AP is so consciously nostalgic. And I don't read Roth for nostalgia.


message 29: by Marc (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marc Nash Robert wrote: "You get to the heart of my problem, Patty. AP is so consciously nostalgic. And I don't read Roth for nostalgia."

Hmmm, most literary fiction is nostalgic, in some way being about loss or creating pasts that didn't actually exist, but you can still infuse that with nostalgia. The vast majority are set in the past or recent past, there are very few truly contemporary works and those that are age quickly


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

Emma The truth is one thing. Making it incredibly boring is quite another.


Amber I had picked up this book when I was a teenager (about 10 years ago) and couldn't finish it. I had thought it was boring. I only recently picked it up again and was blown away with how interesting it was. I became very absorbed in this story and group of characters.

It is defiantly not for everyone and though I couldn't quite give it 5 stars, it will always be memorable and, to me, a classic.


Ronald Geigle I found that the book had some "truth" -- in my view, that life can be random, jumbled, and chaotic, even for those who seem to have nailed perfection. But as I said in my review, the book was too repetitive, too long, too overstated, and hence, it overwhelms the messages and plot lines that were quite worthy.


message 33: by [deleted user] (new)

So many excellent things said here. One thing that crossed my mind as I read this book was The Idiot. I haven't thought this through, and I'm just musing, but the Swede brought Prince Myshkin to my thoughts.

I know this is an old, what do they call it, thread? But, hey, I'm an old woman.


Charles Emma wrote: "The truth is one thing. Making it incredibly boring is quite another."

True.
I mean the book tells a good story. I had to study it, like some others here, and do close readings on it. The book tends to prattle on about things that don't really matter, and then gloss over (in a lot of cases) the parts where the reader goes 'that's a cool story, there' - like with the hamster coat. I mean if you took out all the rambling descriptions of JP Morgan's furniture, and whatnot that the story doesn't actually need in order to exist, it may actually be enjoyable. I seem to recall entire sections of the book where it could be said quite literally nothing happened until the last page of the section.


message 35: by Keith (last edited Aug 31, 2015 05:50AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Keith Clementson Although Philip Roth deserves his accolades overall, I don't agree that he is possibly the single greatest modern prose stylist with "gorgeous architecture of his sentences". Most of his sentences are, frankly, overly fragmented by dashes, commas, parentheses, etc. to the extent of being verbose and tangled -- not necessarily a bad thing unless, of course, this fragmentation is repeated sentence after sentence after sentence, which it is, in which case we, the readers, must constantly look backward in the sentence a few commas and dashes to remind ourselves where we are in this thought -- to the extent that he, Roth, that is, rarely delivers a sentence with an economy of syllables (his sentences being, frankly, consistently way too long!), nor is his cadence as remarkably effortless, naturally musical like a "great architect of sentences" would have them, such as, in my humble opinion, well I won't name names (okay I will: Carol Shields (Larry's Party); and Dave Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work...)), just to name a couple off hand, whereby a swift delivery of a well-turned phrase, dazzling in its ability to deliver/capture such density of description and ideas in so few words, not to mention ...

I lost my train of thought.


Kathy Paul wrote: "How can anyone give this book anything less than five stars? If people want an exciting vampire book, then they will be disappointed by American Pastoral. Come on people, use your brains and deal w..."

...but did you *really* want to spend that much time on the details of how gloves are made? Or in the author repeating himself, just in case you missed his tremendously important writing earlier???


Kathy Lisa wrote: "Paul wrote: "How can anyone give this book anything less than five stars? If people want an exciting vampire book, then they will be disappointed by American Pastoral. Come on people, use your brai..."

I agree wholeheartedly.


Jonathan Peto Paul wrote: "How can anyone give this book anything less than five stars?"

I guess there's more to it than "deals with so many of life's difficulties". Four stars!


Ronald Geigle God bless you Philip Roth! Years after you've finished the writing, we're still arguing over the book and what it means.


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