Friday, 7 June 2013

Short note on American Pastoral by Philip Roth


Some synchronicity to report. A Jack Russell type puppy came our way, a tiny little chap but with the rudiments of the breed's vertical take-off. What shall we call him? My wife came up with Skip which those of you who have read American Pastoral will know was the high school nickname of Nathan Zuckerman the alter ego of the author Philip Roth. She hasn't read the book so it seemed auspicious.

As a book it had its moments but for me it has a flaw at the centre which I can't overlook unless I am completely mistaken about the import of what Roth/Zuckerman states on page 87:

In earnest, right then and there, while swaying with Joy to that out-of- date music, I began to try to work out for myself what exactly had shaped a destiny unlike any imagined for the famous Weequahic three-letterman back when this music and it sentimental exhortation was right to the point, when the Swede, his neighbourhood, his city, and his country were in their exuberant heyday, at the peak of confidence, inflated with every illusion born of hope.

It seems to me that most of the subsequent events of the novel are extrapolations from a very limited set of known facts about Swede, Dawn and Merry. This is not just unreliable narration but fantasy refracted through the mind of Skip who keeps twisting our buttons as he explains everything. He is the Morris County explainer. The story then is, in Jungian terms, hijacked by the active imagination of Skip.

The alienating narrator is a device that I have never warmed to. Give me diaries, letters, recounting and discovery. I have always relied on the kindness of trove.

Addendum 8/6/13:
Before I read a book I rarely read a review because I fear that spoilers may occur and plot points that ought to unfold may be revealed out of turn. It was interesting to see when I had a look at Michael Wood's review in the New York Times that he took the same critical approach as myself.
Woods on American Pastoral

He mentions page 89 as the entry into active imagination and one feels that his giving of a plot summary is a way of avoiding a negative review. You might turn up in a later novel as Woodsky.

Levi Asher in his sublime blog www.litkicks.com characterises Roth as kvetching Uncle Phil:
Uncle Phil

1 comment:

ombhurbhuva said...

My country club, 'tis of thee: When in London Roth's pied-à-terre is the R.A.C. Club in Pall Mall. Exclusion makes the heart grow fonder.