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But shocking, intensely dramatized events precipitate Silk's crisis. He remarks of two students who never showed up for class, "Do they exist or are they spooks?" They turn out to be black, and lodge a bogus charge of racism exploited by his enemies. Then, at 71, Viagra catapults Silk into "the perpetual state of emergency that is sexual intoxication," and he ignites an affair with an illiterate janitor, Faunia Farley, 34. She's got a sharp sensibility, "the laugh of a barmaid who keeps a baseball bat at her feet in case of trouble," and a melancholy voluptuousness. "I'm back in the tornado," Silk exults. His campus persecutors burn him for it--and his main betrayer is Delphine Roux.
In a short space, it's tough to convey the gale-force quality of Silk's rants, or the odd effect of Zuckerman's narration, alternately retrospective and torrentially in the moment. The flashbacks to Silk's youth in New Jersey are just as important as his turbulent forced retirement, because it turns out that for his entire adult life, Silk has been covering up the fact that he is a black man. (If this seems implausible, consider that the famous New York Times book critic Anatole Broyard did the same thing.) Young Silk rejects both the racism that bars him from Woolworth's counter and the Negro solidarity of Howard University. "Neither the they of Woolworth's nor the we of Howard" is for Coleman Silk. "Instead the raw I with all its agility. Self-discovery--that was the punch to the labonz.... Self-knowledge but concealed. What is as powerful as that?"
Silk's contradictions power a great Philip Roth novel, but he's not the only character who packs a punch. Faunia, brutally abused by her Vietnam vet husband (a sketchy guy who seems to have wandered in from a lesser Russell Banks novel), scarred by the death of her kids, is one of Roth's best female characters ever. The self-serving Delphine Roux is intriguingly (and convincingly) nutty, and any number of minor characters pop in, mouth off, kick ass, and vanish, leaving a vivid sense of human passion and perversity behind. You might call it a stain. --Tim Appelo
We all have things we keep hidden from the world, and when that hidden thing rises to the level of a light-skinned African-American reinventing himself as white and Jewish in a... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Deborah Batterman
One of the best books I've read. The depth of understanding of human nature, human relationships, and social pressures in human relationships is deft and penetrating. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Gerald L. Harper
I am overwhelmed by this story. A rich telling of a special moment in history. I loved this book. I read American Pastoral earlier this summer and loved it so I decided I'd try... Read morePublished 3 months ago by Karen W
The implementation of language, the twist of the politically incorrect, the various voices and points of view all toggle to create a wondrously complex and alluring contemplation... Read morePublished 3 months ago by nancy
This is a very touching story of a man who grew up in Essex County, New Jersey, and spent his life attempting to keep secret a fact about himself. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Tom
Too much going back & forth between characters - the flow was not good. BUT it kept my interest.Published 3 months ago by florence speth
I tried to count how many human stains there are in this book and in the lives of the characters.Published 4 months ago by Robert L. Glidden Jr.