Philip Roth – American Pastoral

American_pastoralAs before I mentioned that I am listening to some of the Pulitzer’s on audio books because I drive so much of my time for work. So I downloaded four of the books that I could find on the audio book website For some reason, I could only find these four and luckily I had four credits, so i downloaded them some time in January I think. Now I have finished three of them leaving only Shirley Ann Grau’s The Keepers of the House, which I have started and am about half way through, so expect another entry soon. Listening to audio books is an interesting switch from reading text on a page. I think that sometimes you are allowed to dwell on a certain chapter or passage or phrase for longer than you would have reading, but then I think that is also true in reverse that sometimes the pace of the reading and the story push you further on than you would like and it doesn’t occur to you to push pause and sit for awhile with the passage. Anyways, I have extensive training with taking in auditory media. I used to have a job where I did the same thing for eight hours a day sitting in front of an industrial size scanner and scanned newspapers into a computer database and emailed it on the next image rendering guy. So while there we could listen to our iPods and I quickly exhausted my music library to the point of boredom, and instead of paying for new music I found the wondrous world of podcast. This was about 4 years ago, and the world of podcast has swiftly advanced in the interim, but I took in a lot of sermons, Scripture, news, and stories. So I have trained myself in multitasking in this way. I can’t chew gum and walk at the same time, but I can decipher things spoken to me and do work at the same time proficiently.

All that said, I loved Philip Roth’s book American Pastoral. It was a roller-coaster ride for my emotions while driving pizza to people’s houses. Sometimes I would get out of the car in the middle of a very tense section and think of nothing absolutely nothing else but what would happen next, pull up to a stop light and the narrator would be screaming a section and I would roll the windows up instead of turning the radio down because it was that evocative to me. Ron Silver narrated this edition and he is of the foremost i have listened to yet that really brought out the text. Roth’s character our voyeur into this life of Swed Lavov, Nate Zuckerman is an interesting bit of artifice for this narration. I didn’t know anything about Nate before this novel, I had only read one of Roth’s short stories before hand and liked it enough to be interested in reading more but propelled by any sense of urgency. Now, Roth is on my short list of favorite living authors. He is incredible, but the Zuckerman idea I didn;t understand because I was not prepared for its strange disassociation with the text. I thought that somehow this character would come back at the end of the novel, but i had no idea that the novel he was describing writing in the beginning was the novel I was reading until at some point in the hours of listening I thought i would be impossible to bring Nate back in any substantial portion with the time allotted me in the finishing of the recording, which is a queer advantage in the regard to listening instead of reading that you have some sense in how things will resolve themselves because you see how long the recording has left. All that aside, Roth wrestles with everything there is to wrestle with in the American story I think in this expansive and ambitious work. Family and public/private life, all the narratives from a tumultuous time in American history told from an unlikely voice. The main thrust of the story covers years 1949 to 1968, and a little dabbling in the mid 1990’s because of Zuckerman’s segway into his terse novel. But the narration focuses on a liberal leaning business owner that survived the riotous time of the early 60’s. What an interesting choice for point of view in this crazy mixed up time in American life. Swed is not a square, or doesn’t seem like the squares I was presented in media today. The squares of the 50’s and 60’s were don’t rock the boat no body’s who didn’t really know how to live. And as a energy-packed, angry teen the vehemence with which the ‘hippies’ fought back was always romantic to me. This romantic notion of violent revolution is turned upside down by Roth in a not-so-delicate way and so I thought that this voice would turn me completely off by my sympathy with politically charged twenty somethings. My vehemence has faded moving into my mid-twenties, but it can be peaked by the right impassioned speech or documentary or news story, and so a large part of me was afraid of being stiff-armed by an old-fuddy-duddy Jewish writer who has clear sympathy for the squares of the era and their businesses ruined. Roth more readily sides with the bourgeois in his narrative, which is fine and totally authentic, but because I can use a word like that says a lot about my leanings, and how a point of view such as Roth’s would be hard to overcome for me. But I was allowed access into the mind of these honest, unflappable people who’s logical is undeniable, and who’s empathy for those so misguided by even a shared hatred of an unpopular war is touching and real.

Roth’s scope of themes symbols and language is overwhelming. This is a titanic work which brings within its view almost the entirety of the human condition. I found myself revelling near the end, what else could Roth have to say about life, he said it all here. He gives you the opportunity to disagree with him which is humble for a writer dealing with all of the subjects that he does in this work, which could be constricting if not done as delicately at time as Roth does. Religion is a significant struggle in this work, and he leaves his voice succinctly out of it. The central conflict of that story is Catholic versus Jews and the bells ring inside of this quaint marriage of the two. Neither side is overly anything, non-practicing Jewish husband and Christmas and Easter Catholic, but when the parents get involved the story gets blurry, yelling and harsh words spoken by careless mouths, but Roth doesn’t make a pronouncement on which is right and which is wrong. What he seems to be saying is it might have been better if they had just picked on and stuck with it, but I am not totally sure he even goes that far. He brings it to your attention clearly and forcefully but leaves it entirely up to you to decide. Which is a trait of a true artist that of which I envy and strive to attain. Roth deals with sex en masse, every part of sexuality addressed completely without flinching. A single part is disturbing my only fault of the book, that this scene for my ears was a little too in depth, but beyond that fitting to the work and important in some ways. I feel like this work is important enough to have won this award and am glad this project has brought this book into my life, now it is a part of my consciousness which has informed my life for the betterment of all. Wonderful work, read it please.


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