Friday, October 03, 2008

Roth's American Pastoral

I just finished reading American Pastoral by Philip Roth. It one a Pulitzer in 1998 and several other prizes since then, so evidently someone likes it. I had to read this one for a class (which actually doesn't start until next Monday, but we were advised to do as much of the reading as possible before hand). If it were just me, if I had picked this up at a bookstore I would have put this right back on the shelf after the first page.

In the third chapter, the narrator attends his 45th high school reunion and the main character's brother tells the entire story (and the most important facts are also on the back cover) but the book goes on for another 300 pages. During that time, a few additional questions are answered, but not the ones I wanted to have answered. OK one I wanted answered: how did Merry die?

The writing itself was very stream-of consciousness: the narrator goes off on wild tangents, and then jumps back to the point he was making 10 pages before, says one more line on the subject and then goes off on another tangent. I found the whole thing very frustrating, not so much because of the rambling (I do that all the time) but because there were no surprises in the story itself and because I genuinely did not care about any of the characters. 423 pages of rambling about characters and a story that I don't care about is 423 pages too many for me.

The blurbs on the back cover seem to have been written about a different book. For example, this bit from the "Financial Times", "Full of insight, full of sharp ironic twists, full of wisdom about American idealism, and full of terrific fun...a profound and personal meditation on the changes in the American psyche over the last fifty years." I don't remember any insight, sharp ironic twists (there were no twists of any kind), wisdom, fun (terrific or otherwise), or anything profound.

2 stars out of 10


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