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In the 1990s Philip Roth won America's four major literary awards in succession: the National Book Critics Circle Award for Patrimony (1991), the PEN/Faulkner Award for Operation Shylock (1993), the National Book Award for Sabbath's Theater (1995), and the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for American Pastoral (1997). He won the Ambassador Book Award of the English-Speaking Union for I Married a Communist (1998); in the same year he received the National Medal of Arts at the White House. Previously he won the National Book Critics Circle Award for The Counterlife (1986) and the National Book Award for his first book, Goodbye, Columbus (1959). In 2000 he published The Human Stain, concluding a trilogy that depicts the ideological ethos of postwar America. For The Human Stain Roth received his second PEN/Faulkner Award as well as Britain's W. H. Smith Award for the Best Book of the Year. In 2001 he received the highest award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Gold Medal in Fiction, given every six years "for the entire work of the recipient." In 2005 The Plot Against America received the Society of American Historians Award for "the outstanding historical novel on an American theme for 2003--2004." In 2007 Roth received the PEN/Faulkner Award for Everyman.
Philip Roth's American Trilogy shows many of the gritty realities of American life, using different people in different periods of time. A once-popular high school athlete whose daughter may be a domestic terrorist, beautiful lives destroyed during the McCarthy era, a former college professor with skeletons in the closet.. all of these show Roth's creativity and ability to create a startling portrait of American life. Roth's signature character and alter-ego Nathan Zuckerman is here, but only on the sidelines; he is the narrator. The former humor of Roth is mostly gone; it hasn't been seen since Operation Shylock. The novels are still funny, albeit in a very black way, but it isn't the same. They are instead mostly serious, dark meditations on the reality of the American dream. None of these novels are Roth's best (I would give that to The Counterlife) but they are all very good. One by one:
American Pastoral: This is the first novel of the series and seems to be most people's favorite of the bunch. For many people, it is their favorite Roth novel period. It is strange, then, that this is probably my least favorite of the bunch. It has an excellent story and character development, but falls a bit flat towards the end. Despite that, it is a scary, sad, gritty and occasionally funny novel.
I Married a Communist: And now, the second novel in the series, I Married a Communist. Another surprise; this seems to be most people's least favorite of the three, but it is my favorite. I can see why people wouldn't like it (Saul Bellow, long time friend and admirer of Philip Roth, hated this novel) but I found it to be scary and real. Read it and tremble.
The Human Stain: The Human Stain, the last novel of the three, is an incredibly sad, though oddly moving novel.Read more ›
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I discovered Philip Roth, strangely enough, through a young woman who insisted that all of her friends join her in despising him. I never got to the bottom of that situation, and now I think I never will. These three novels investigate the Twentieth Century American identity--warts and all. It was a real pleasure exposing my thoughts to such vivid, profound descriptions of Roth's protagonists and antagonists. Excellent material for provoking discussion.
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I am not sure I understand the special reason for bringing together these three novels as Roth's 'American Novels' From his first published work the stories of 'Goodbye Columbus' Roth has been obsessed with the subject of what it means to be an American and most especially what it means to be a Jewish- American. In the work which will probably remain his signature work though done relatively early in his career 'Portnoy's Complaint' Roth ironically and hilariously portrays an American- Jewish childhood and world, with all its angsts and strange poignant beauties. Of these three novels 'American Pastoral' seems to me by far the best. 'The Human Stain' displays Roth in his vulgar, angry side and simply was too much for me to finish. When Roth becomes politically didactic he becomes like most others boring and he does this in "I Married A Communist'. None of these works in my opinion equals 'Goodbye Columbus 'Portnoy's Complaint ' 'The Counterlife' 'Everyman' Nemesis' which are in my judgment Roth's finest work.
I am just reviewing the binding quality here, not the book itself. The paper is so thin you that the words show through from the page behind, most distracting. I would beware of "The Library of America Edition" hardback prints after buying this.