- Series: Vintage International
- Paperback: 423 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (February 3, 1998)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0375701427
- ISBN-13: 978-0375701429
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars See all reviews (494 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #8,811 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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American Pastoral: American Trilogy (1) (Vintage International) Paperback – February 3, 1998
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Philip Roth's 22nd book takes a life-long view of the American experience in this thoughtful investigation of the century's most divisive and explosive of decades, the '60s. Returning again to the voice of his literary alter ego Nathan Zuckerman, Roth is at the top of his form. His prose is carefully controlled yet always fresh and intellectually subtle as he reconstructs the halcyon days, circa World War II, of Seymour "the Swede" Levov, a high school sports hero and all-around Great Guy who wants nothing more than to live in tranquillity. But as the Swede grows older and America crazier, history sweeps his family inexorably into its grip: His own daughter, Merry, commits an unpardonable act of "protest" against the Vietnam war that ultimately severs the Swede from any hope of happiness, family, or spiritual coherence.
From Library Journal
In his latest novel, Roth shows his age. Not that his writing is any less vigorous and supple. But in this autumnal tome, he is definitely in a reflective mood, looking backward. As the book opens, Roth's alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman, recalls an innocent time when golden boy Seymour "the Swede" Levov was the pride of his Jewish neighborhood. Then, in precise, painful, perfectly rendered detail, he shows how the Swede's life did not turn out as gloriously as expected?how it was, in fact, devastated by a child's violent act. When Merry Levov blew up her quaint little town's post office to protest the Viet Nam war, she didn't just kill passing physician Fred Conlon, she shattered the ties that bound her to her worshipful father. Merry disappears, then eventually reappears as a stick-thin Jain living in sacred povery in Newark, having killed three more people for the cause. Roth doesn't tell the whole story blow by blow but gives us the essentials in luminous, overlapping bits. In the end, the book positively resonates with the anguish of a father who has utterly lost his daughter. Highly recommended.
-?Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top customer reviews
In my first read, the book seemed static; abrupt in changing its point of view. As opera, it would have plenty of passion but remain earthbound nevertheless. Its narrative is flimsy, doing little more than connecting the dots that map out the story.
The nut of this story is a single horrible act of 1960s domestic terrorism and its aftermath that becomes the fulcrum around which everything spins. The narrative, circles but ends up going nowhere. The “Swede,” who is the main voice, keeps churning the story by referring again and again to the horrible event and the consequences. The story is recounted, told and retold.
To me the book becomes the Swede’s internal, desperate rant, a “cri de Coeur,” of a man of privilege, a Jew, a blond golden boy, ultimately brought to ground by the turbulent, explosive 1960s and the events that swept society and the Swede along with it – into the “fury, violence and desperation of the counterpastoral, into the indigenous American berserk.”
When I finished the book, I brooded and then moved on. Then in an act of compulsion, I re-read it. My read-through this time was an attempt to channel the Swede, to burrow into his head and feel what he’s feeling. And the thing of it is, when I did that, the book became disquieting, disturbing – almost haunting – in the fierceness and anguish of its emotion. It’s simply incredible how Roth manages to get your brain roiling with empathy. The novel is burdened with the Swede’s unbridled internal feeling of rage, which is portrayed in a way and to an extent that my reassessment makes “American Pastoral” among the most wrenching books I’ve read.
Roth calls upon Nathan Zuckerman to narrate the first third of the book. It’s in this section we learn most about Seymour Levov’s – The Swede’s – history. Then poof, Zuckerman disappears, inexplicably and the world in the 1960s is portrayed through the lens of the Swede’s unhinged sensibilities.
Roth gives us a character study of a decent man who comes of age in postwar America and falls to the grip of his times. This is foremost a story of America –its immigrants, its industry and its promise of a good, orderly life. Isn’t it ironic that the Swede’s wife was a runner-up for the Miss America crown.
The Swede’s prosperity derives from a successful glove business started by his father. The business of making and marketing fashion gloves becomes a fascinating case study of what it takes to succeed, what it’s like to be stalked by the threat of failure, what it’s like to feel powerless to stem defeat.
Ultimately “American Pastoral” earns lasting distinction because it transcends. More than the story of an individual crushed by the forces of history, the novel rises to become a sweeping portrait of America at its most fractious. If Roth is ever presented with the Nobel Prize he deserves, he will have entered the pantheon because of writing this compelling.
In a word: Transcendent
Although there are many Roth works that are truly brilliant and unmitigated pleasures to read; two-time National Book award winner for "Patrimony" and "Sabbath's Theater" and three time PEN/Faulkner winner for "Operation Shylock," "The Human Stain" and "Everyman," THIS confusing amalgam of personal and humanistic inner suffering occurring within the toxic late 1960s revolutionary anti-war, anti-America era, left me somewhat disappointed, perplexed as to Roth's inability to better coalesce his intimation and completely bewildered as to what the hell the Pulitzer panel were thinking that year (1998 did appear, however, to be a year in which the committee was determined to recognize the "unconventional" in literary fiction; the finalists that year were "Underworld" by Don DeLillo, a baffling "post-modern" work centered on the famous 1951 Bobby Thompson Home-Run and "Bear and His Daughter," a bleak and depressing collection of short stories by the normally "kick-ass" writer, Robert Stone).
This novel, American Pastoral, introduces our protagonist and hero, "The Swede," Seymour Levov, a hulking but sensitive Jewish son of an outspoken and outlandish owner of a New Jersey glove factory, Lou Levov. The Swede has seemingly grown up with it all...great looks, all State in football and basketball and that type of guy in high school we all hated who goes on to marry "Miss New Jersey." He ultimately succeeds his father as owner/operator of the hugely successful glove business and he and his beauty queen wife ultimately have a daughter, Merry, who, naturally, adds to their symbolic life as a young successful WASP family.
But therein lies the conflict...Merry comes of age during the realization of national futility with the Vietnam War and of the revolutionary late 1960s. And as she transforms from a loving, devoted child to an inexplicably hostile and insensible teenager, full of uninformed diatribe and delusions of the radical rhetoric of the times, we experience, as readers, the toll this revolt takes on the "ordinary" parents that the Swede and his wife Dawn have become.
Merry covertly operates as a 1960s extremist for over five years, performing heinous crimes while completely abandoning the Swede and his wife. Looking for an explanation, indeed any link to a plausible justification, the Swede continues his unabated search for his daughter. The absolute destruction of his emotional existence is put on full display here in heartrending detail; the strength of Roth's writing is in the deep feelings and impassioned sentiments both he and his wife experience and it is very difficult, as a parent, not to empathize fully with what they go through.
The overall detriment to this plot, though, is the literally absurd amount of digressions Roth takes. These deep sentiments are literally hammered into the consciousness of the reader...time and again we're rung through a tortuous chapter of the Swede's life and inner constitution; and to make it all worse, there's no payoff. The book ends with no satisfying conclusion or emotionally stable outcome...we're left completely on our own to form our own ending. If this was what was enticing to the Pulitzer panel, then they really should have been replaced...this isn't great literature, it's great frustration.
I give "American Pastoral" three stars for the obvious genius that Philip Roth portrays. In spots the writing is beautiful and when held to the plot, exceedingly gorgeous to read. Too many pages, however, are spent on useless discourse and pontification and if you can get through that and expect it to coalesce into a meaningful ending, you become extremely frustrated all over again. My view is to skip this and concentrate on the other Roth novels to get a true understanding of this "literary giant."