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Indignation Hardcover – September 5, 2008
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"Holly Banks Full of Angst" by Julie Valerie
A laugh-out-loud debut novel for anyone who’s tried to live the perfect life—and learned the hard way there’s no such thing. | Learn more
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
- Item Weight : 12.8 ounces
- Hardcover : 233 pages
- ISBN-10 : 054705484X
- ISBN-13 : 978-0547054841
- Dimensions : 5.75 x 1 x 7.75 inches
- Publisher : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; First Edition (September 5, 2008)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,174,529 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Is life stacked against us? Are there good guys and bad guys? Can one be completely self-deluded about which is which? Don't expect definitive answers from this novel, just the questions "posed" in dramatic, and sometimes hilarious, fashion.
How I wish the book had been longer. I was enjoying the ride.
The book arrived and I decided to check it out---didn't put it down and stayed up past my bedtime until I finished it.
Top reviews from other countries
There's a certain kind of coldness to Roth's writing about the ravages of old age (see 'Exit Ghost', 'The Humbling', 'Everyman') but in focusing on a young, doomed protagonist in 'Indignation' we get a lyrical, if wistful nostalgia that's often bittersweet, and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. Witness the narrator's reaction to his unexpected... erm... oral encounter, and his automatic assumption that she must be mentally damaged in some way. The fact that this turns out to be kind of true doesn't make his sudden, and slightly hypocritical prudishness any less amusing.
I kind of wish I could give 'Indignation' five stars, and I would have done if I were measuring it against only the other Nemeses novels. However, Roth has also given us 'American Pastoral' (one of my favourite all-time novels), 'The Plot Against America', and 'The Human Stain'. His recent work (except, perhaps, The Humbling, which I hated) is impressive, especially given his age, but these novels are still minor works compared to his output in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Still... None of them outstay their welcome. Even 'The Humbling' can (mercifully) be read in one sitting. And in the case of 'Indignation' and 'Nemeses', they're an absolute pleasure to read, however ultimately tragic their subject matter might be.
Marcus Messner, an only child, works with his father in the family's butcher shop based in Newark, New Jersey. However, as Marcus grows up and begins to find some independence tension between father and son develops out of the father's growing concerns for his son. To escape an increasing domineering father, Marcus, now 18, moves to a college, Winesburg, some 500 miles away in Ohio. The novel is set against the backdrop of the 1950 - 53 Korean war which instils fear in Messner in relation to being drafted into the transport Corps. Therefore, part of Messner's endeavour at Winesburg college is to obtain good grades and steer a course that would lead him into the military intelligence rather than the transportation Corps. Meanwhile, Messner is pressured to join one of Winesburg's many fraternities. A sexual encounter with a female student, Olivia Hutton, leaves Messner bewildered, and it starts a process which alters the course of his college life.
Roth has Messner narrate the story from somewhere in central Korea in a morphine induced state of semi-consciousness. Several times during the story Messner hints that he will be dead by the end of the story.
One of the things to be said of Indignation is that it is not likely to endear Roth to new readers. Indeed, Roth's feminist detractors would say, with some justification, that in Olivia he has created a weak, one dimensional character and given her treatment at the hands of male suitors he has once again created misogynist male characters especially in the shape of Messner.
Having allowed that to Roth's detractors, it would be a mistake to denigrate this novel. Through Messner Roth brings us face to face with some of our most primordial concerns. The novel explores father and son relationship, the impact of change and fear.
In terms of being engaged by Messner, it has to be said that the reader must do so with some caution. We cannot rely on Messner's morphine induced narrative. However, suspending credulity for a moment I have to say that Messner gains my sympathy. He is to some extent an angry young man in search of independence and who rails against the injustices of life. In one passage two of Messner's peers calls upon him to join a Jewish college fraternity whilst discussion his dislike of joining fraternities, Messner ruminates about the archetypal good looking youngster thus: "Humiliation never touched these youngsters, while for the rest of us it was always buzzing overhead like the fly or the mosquito that won't go away. What did evolution have in mind by making but one out of a million look like the boy standing before me. What was the function of such handsomeness except to draw attention to everyone else's imperfection?"
Part of Messner's problem and a major theme of the novel is his struggle not to conform to other people's norms and expectations. In a discussion with the dean of the college, Messner quotes Bertram Russell extensively to show why he, Messner, is dismissive of religious beliefs. But just as interesting is Messner's strife to maintain his liberty and independence of mind. In doing so he echoed John Stuart Mill when he tells the dean: "Those are my own private affair, as is my social life and how I conduct it. I am breaking no laws, my behaviour is causing no one any injury or harm, and in nothing that I've done have I impinged on anyone's rights. If anyone's rights are being impinged on, they are mine."
This was an enjoyable and interesting read. Enjoyable because, although bleak in many ways, Roth still manages to tell his story with a light touch of humour. Interesting because Roth reminds us of what it is to be an outsider and of the ramifications of fear.