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When She Was Good Paperback – International Edition, January 31, 1995
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"Roth is a living master." —Harold Bloom, The New York Review of Books
From the Inside Flap
When she was still a child, Lucy Nelson had her alcoholic failure of a father thrown in jail. Ever since then she has been trying to reform the men around her, even if that ultimately means destroying herself in the process. With his unerring portraits of Lucy and her hapless, childlike husband, Roy, Roth has created an uncompromising work of fictional realism, a vision of provincial American piety, yearning, and discontent that is at once pitiless and compassionate.
Top Customer Reviews
The novel, an odd combination of satire and naturalism, follows three generations of the Nelson family, whose Scandanavian roots are apparently responsible for the ferociously puritanical streak in the work's tragic main character, young Lucy. Roth's insistence on making Lucy a symbol of "putritan America" leads to an unfortunately hyperbolic ending in what is otherwise a carefully constrained character study of an ordinary family dealing with alcoholism. Having attained the enlightenment of adolescence, Lucy decides to deal with her father's drinking harshly and unforgivingly, setting in motion a series of catastrophes that include her own forced marriage to an endearingly naive and well-intentioned young man -- by far the book's most sympathetic character -- Roy Bassart.
This is excellent story-telling, sharp and clear and vivid. Not every reader will share Roth's point of view or his characterizations, but my, what talent.
In When She Was Good, we are introduced to that rare 4-dimensional character, and her name is Lucy Nelson. Besides going through changes, she absorbs momentum; a sort of manic kineticism acts on her while she acts on her immediate circle of friends and family. Because of this treatment, and some intriguing structural techniques that ought to remind the reader of Faulkner, the "same" Lucy who evokes deep sympathy eventually demands of us that we dismiss or even ridicule her, until this amazing last page...
To deal with a 4-dimensional character (Hamlet is another example of one) requires a touch of literary mysticism. We must treat the novel as a reality, a chunk of life, instead of a mere representation. Like the main characters of great films (e.g. Citizen Kane), Lucy Nelson bothers our categorization-impulse by putting her internal contradictions in high relief. And she does this without the mimetic advantages that a film possesses.
On the whole, When She Was Good is not Roth's best novel; we do not expect it to be, when we see the photo of Roth (apparently in his mid twenties) on the flap.Read more ›
Lucy, the main character of the story, grows up in a home with an abusive alcoholic mother. Seemingly on top of the world, she becomes pregnant during her freshman year of college by Roy. Roy is a somewhat doltish man who has just returned from two years of military service. Convincing Roy to "do the right thing" and marry her seems to begin the downfall of her character. Once contemplating becoming a nun, Lucy has become a controlling wife. In a strange twist of fate, Lucy evolves into all that she loathed in her father in the respect that her own child finds her intolerable and her husband leaves her. The situation mirrors her father being run out of her mother's house.
Lucy is a deeply flawed character that readers will have difficultly liking. Lucy is initially a very moral charcter but has difficuly seeing her faults and eventual backslide. Because Roy and his family are even more vilainous, readers may have difficulty identifying with anybody in the story. Only when Lucy reaches her breaking point does the reader begin to feel sympathy. But knowing Lucy created her own problems, some readers may still have trouble feeling sorry for her.
I really have had trouble deciding if I like this book. I am a fan of many of Roth's other works, yet I find some of his books to be uncomfortably personal and intruding. This is a credit to Roth as a writer even if some readers may not like the feeling of his writing.
The idea that this is a misogynistic novel belies the above reviewer's view of women, not Roth's. If Lucy Nelson is a prototype woman, then God help us all. Clearly she is not. Rather, this character reveals a part of each of us. And remember, although Lucy is the hyperbolic version of sanctimoniousness, she is not alone. The grandfather reveals his condemning thoughts while waiting for his son-in-law's bus; Roy, Lucy's husband, rants about his ignorant professors and faults them for his own failures; etc... "This is humanity. This is you. This is me,"--seems to be the author's point. And thankfully he reminds us at the end that change and grace are possible, even if it comes via struggling, imperfect human love, and may have bitter-sweet results.
Here is a case of fiction doing what it does best--delighting with prose while shedding light on the non-fiction of our lives.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I really respect Philip Roth, although for me, this wasn't my favorite book of his - it did complete my collection, however. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Candace Lynda Davis
this is one of 2 Roth novels that seems not quite "Roth". The other is "Our Gang" a hate letter to the Nixon Administration which I chose not to finish because I... Read morePublished 8 months ago by Your Inner Child
It takes real genius to chronicle the banal and make it incandescent, but that’s what Phillip Roth pulls off in his third novel, When She Was Good (1967). Read morePublished 11 months ago by M. Buzalka
Lucy Nelson had a difficult childhood. Along with her timid, submissive mother and her alcoholic, n’er do well father, Lucy lived with her mom’s parents. Read morePublished 19 months ago by Barbara Saffer
Complicated. I guess it's his story. I wouldn't want to live through this.Published 20 months ago by Amazon Customer
This is one of Roth's best books. I had read it many years ago and enjoyed it more the second time around!Published 22 months ago by Amazon Customer