American Pastoral: American Trilogy (1)

by Philip Roth

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group | February 3, 1998 | Trade Paperback

American Pastoral: American Trilogy (1) is rated 3 out of 5 by 3.
As the American century draws to an uneasy close, Philip Roth gives us a novel of unqualified greatness that is an elegy for all our century''s promises of prosperity, civic order, and domestic bliss. Roth''s protagonist is Swede Levov, a legendary athlete at his Newark high school, who grows up in the booming postwar years to marry a former Miss New Jersey, inherit his father''s glove factory, and move into a stone house in the idyllic hamlet of Old Rimrock. And then one day in 1968, Swede''s beautiful American luck deserts him.

For Swede''s adored daughter, Merry, has grown from a loving, quick-witted girl into a sullen, fanatical teenager—a teenager capable of an outlandishly savage act of political terrorism. And overnight Swede is wrenched out of the longer-for American pastoral and into the indigenous American berserk. Compulsively readable, propelled by sorrow, rage, and a deep compassion for its characters, this is Roth''s masterpiece.

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 432 pages, 8 × 5.18 × 0.86 in

Published: February 3, 1998

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0375701427

ISBN - 13: 9780375701429

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Reviews

Rated 1 out of 5 by from A frustrating read.... I know that this is going to be an unpopular review, as the book has been heralded as one of the best in the last century (it won a Pulitzer Prize, for crying out loud). But never have I been so frustrated reading a book in my life. I'll try to explain why. 1. The idea of the story is great, the whole reason I bought the book. I can count on one hand the number of times in the book that you were ever actually reading anything to do with what the story was sold to be. And each time was a couple of pages, at most. Yet, here you had a book that was only a little over 400 pages, and I can count 3 times where the author spends incredible sums of pages describing in mind numbing detail how a manufacturer makes a pair of gloves. That is not an exaggeration, there were three different points in the book where he actually wrote what amounted to a manual on how they produce gloves. I would find myself getting angry, shuffling through pages to find out how long these descriptions would go on, and want to throw the book down when 6 or 7 pages later I was still looking at the description of how to make gloves. Now, imagine that in 3 different portions of the book. And a relatively short book at that. 2. I know it might be trendy or artsy to not tie things up...I guess we're supposed to be intelligent enough to imagine how situations turned out, and where people's lives ended up. But I'm a reader. I bought a book where I want a good story. And I want to be satisfied with the story I'm reading. Call me unrefined, but after reading descriptions that caused comatose symptoms in me when it comes to the manufactureing of gloves, the description of a model house, how cows are herded, etc. the least the author could do is maybe tie up a few loose ends. The protagonist's wife has an affair....ok, does he confront her, what happens? The daughter is living in squalor....what becomes of her? The woman that claims to be the lesbian lover of the daughter, but the daughter denies knowing her...is she a fraud, or is the daughter lying? Not one of the questions that actually had me intrigued enough to continue reading just so I could find the answer are answered. I don't know. I can't believe I'm the only one out there that went "Huh? This won a Pulitzer Prize?" No doubt, the sentences made sense, I didn't see any spelling errors, and the guy is a wiz with grammar....but that can't be what wins you Pulitzer Prizes and put on Best of the Century lists, is it?
Date published: 2011-09-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Ethos of postwar America So after reading The Human Stain earlier this year, picking up American Pastoral seemed like the logical next step as the novel forms a loose Nathan Zuckerman trilogy -- a frequent, highly autobiographical narrator in Roth's novels -- along with I Married a Communist. No doubt Roth's American Pastoral is a great novel, I felt I was constantly comparing it to my experience reading The Human Stain, and while this novel is certainly a great read, it falls just below The Human Stain for me. As some parts of American Pastoral are a bit monotonous and boring I found, at certain points Roth's sheer brilliance can just overtake you -- moments that I can't say have truly captivated me as strongly in recent reads. Also, Roth's storyline is a bit more believable -- not that this really matters in my opinion -- when put up against The Human Stain, as well as his ability to create extremely memorable characters are put on display again here, and how the strength -- the fortitude -- of these characters is constantly tested by the unrelenting, unendurable brutality and unfairness which surrounds their lives. However, I feel that being a Canadian in some ways alienated me from this novel; Roth's novel can talk for paragraphs on end about the old work ethic of the United States as well as an unyielding patriotism towards the country -- something that is challenged throughout by protagonist Swede Levov's rebellious, terrorist daughter, Merry. Surely American Pastoral is capable of brining about a certain atavism in its readers. Overall, Roth shows why he is one of my favourite writers still publishing today. American Pastoral is a powerful novel that can grip you from the beginning and not let go until the final paragraphs. American Pastoral is an exemplar Roth's ability as a novelist and how he is one of the few that truly gets it.
Date published: 2010-05-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from American Incendiary: a review of Philip Roth’s American Pastoral Despite the length you’ll fly through this book. It is an uncompromising read, compelling and wrenching. It begins like a fairy tale, a story about the local legendary athlete who marries a beauty queen. And then the novel becomes something very unlike a happy ending: thoughtfully portraying the “brutality of the destruction of this indestructible man” (83). The pace of the narrative, which is achieved by rarely using paragraphs and filling the page up with words, brings you into the mind of the hero, who is at first a caricature. Roth creates complexity, pursuing the depths of obsessional thoughts, indignation, frustration and anger. It is at once existential while sliding close to the border of the stuff of talk-shows, yet he pulls it off without encouraging the lesser (hence, the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1997). If the novel can be summed up: it is the pursuit of a father's unanswered questions: Why, why did it happen? What did I do wrong, what did we do wrong? Where did it all go so horribly and bloodily wrong?!? “The daughter who transports him out of the longer-for American pastoral and into everything that is its antithesis and its enemy, into the fury, the violence, and the desperation of the counterpastoral – into the indigenous American berserk” (86). “No, you didn’t make the war. You made the angriest kid in America. Ever since she was a kid, every word she spoke was a bomb” (279).
Date published: 2007-12-13

– More About This Product –

American Pastoral: American Trilogy (1)

by Philip Roth

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 432 pages, 8 × 5.18 × 0.86 in

Published: February 3, 1998

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0375701427

ISBN - 13: 9780375701429

Read from the Book

1 The Swede. During the war years, when I was still a grade school boy, this was a magical name in our Newark neighborhood, even to adults just a generation removed from the city''s old Prince Street ghetto and not yet so flawlessly Americanized as to be bowled over by the prowess of a high school athlete. The name was magical; so was the anomalous face. Of the few fair-complexioned Jewish students in our preponderantly Jewish public high school, none possessed anything remotely like the steep-jawed, insentient Viking mask of this blue-eyed blond born into our tribe as Seymour Irving Levov. The Swede starred as end in football, center in basketball, and first baseman in baseball. Only the basketball team was ever any good-twice winning the city championship while he was its leading scorer-but as long as the Swede excelled, the fate of our sports teams didn''t matter much to a student body whose elders, largely undereducated and overburdened, venerated academic achievement above all else. Physical aggression, even camouflaged by athletic uniforms and official rules and intended to do no harm to Jews, was not a traditional source of pleasure in our community-advanced degrees were. Nonetheless, through the Swede, the neighborhood entered into a fantasy about itself and about the world, the fantasy of sports fans everywhere: almost like Gentiles (as they imagined Gentiles), our families could forget the way things actually work and make an athletic performance the repository of a
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From the Publisher

As the American century draws to an uneasy close, Philip Roth gives us a novel of unqualified greatness that is an elegy for all our century''s promises of prosperity, civic order, and domestic bliss. Roth''s protagonist is Swede Levov, a legendary athlete at his Newark high school, who grows up in the booming postwar years to marry a former Miss New Jersey, inherit his father''s glove factory, and move into a stone house in the idyllic hamlet of Old Rimrock. And then one day in 1968, Swede''s beautiful American luck deserts him.

For Swede''s adored daughter, Merry, has grown from a loving, quick-witted girl into a sullen, fanatical teenager—a teenager capable of an outlandishly savage act of political terrorism. And overnight Swede is wrenched out of the longer-for American pastoral and into the indigenous American berserk. Compulsively readable, propelled by sorrow, rage, and a deep compassion for its characters, this is Roth''s masterpiece.

From the Jacket

As the American century draws to an uneasy close, Philip Roth gives us a novel of unqualified greatness that is an elegy for all our century''s promises of prosperity, civic order, and domestic bliss. Roth''s protagonist is Swede Levov, a legendary athlete at his Newark high school, who grows up in the booming postwar years to marry a former Miss New Jersey, inherit his father''s glove factory, and move into a stone house in the idyllic hamlet of Old Rimrock. And then one day in 1968, Swede''s beautiful American luck deserts him.
For Swede''s adored daughter, Merry, has grown from a loving, quick-witted girl into a sullen, fanatical teenager--a teenager capable of an outlandishly savage act of political terrorism. And overnight Swede is wrenched out of the longer-for American pastoral and into the indigenous American berserk. Compulsively readable, propelled by sorrow, rage, and a deep compassion for its characters, this is Roth''s masterpiece.

About the Author

In 1997 Philip Roth won the Pulitzer Prize for American Pastoral. In 1998 he received the National Medal of Arts at the White House and in 2002 the highest award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Gold Medal in Fiction. He has twice won the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He has won the PEN/Faulkner Award three times. In 2005 The Plot Against America received the Society of American Historians’ Prize for “the outstanding historical novel on an American theme for 2003-2004.” Recently Roth received PEN’s two most prestigious awards: in 2006 the PEN/Nabokov Award and in 2007 the PEN/Bellow Award for achievement in American fiction. Roth is the only living American novelist to have his work published in a comprehensive, definitive edition by the Library of America. In 2011 he received the National Humanities Medal at the White House, and was later named the fourth recipient of the Man Booker International Prize.


From Our Editors

An ordinary man finds that his life has been made extraordinary by the catastrophic intrusion of history, when, in 1968, his adored daughter plants a bomb that kills a stranger, hurling her father out of the longed-for American pastoral and into the ingenious American berserk. "Never before has Roth written with clear conviction".--"Time".

Editorial Reviews

"One of Roth''s most powerful novels ever...moving, generous and ambitious...a fiercely affecting work of art." —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

"Dazzling...a wrenching, compassionate, intelligent novel...gorgeous." —Boston Globe

"At once expansive and painstakingly detailed.... The pages of American Pastoral crackle with the electricity and zest of a first-rate mind at work." —San Francisco Chronicle

Bookclub Guide

US

1. What is the effect of being told the story through Zuckerman? Are we led to believe aspects of the story are a projection of Zuckerman''s fantasies about a character who caught his imagination?

2. Zuckerman sees the Swede''s life as an illustration of the Jewish "desire to go the limit in America with your rights, forming yourself as an ideal person who gets rid of the traditional Jewish habits and attitudes, who frees himself of the pre-America insecurities and the old, constraining obsessions so as to live unapologetically as an equal among equals" [p. 85]. How does Roth illustrate this thought? The Swede tries very hard to form himself as this ideal person. Does the story imply that such a life, such a reinvention of the self, is ultimately impossible?

3. There could hardly be two more different personality types than the Swede and his brother, Jerry. What do Jerry''s positive traits tell us about the Swede''s negative ones? Why have the two of them chosen such different paths?

4. Does Lou Levov appear to be a benign or a negative influence on his sons'' lives? How, if at all, has he contributed in making the Swede what he is?

5. The passionate kiss that the Swede gave Merry when she was eleven was a once-in-a-lifetime transgression. "Never in his entire life, not as a son, a husband, a father, even as an employer, had he given way to anything so alien to the emotional rules by which he was governed" [p. 91]. Later the Swede fears that this moment precipitated the infinite anger of her teenage years. Is this conclusion erroneous? What does it reveal?

6. The Swede believes that the political radicalism professed by Merry and Rita Cohen is nothing but "angry, infantile egoism thinly disguised as identification with the oppressed" [p. 134]. Is the answer as simple as that? How genuine is Merry''s identification with the oppressed? Are her political arguments convincing?

7. What effect did the experience of watching, as a child, the self-immolation of the Buddhist monks have upon Merry? Does her reaction seem unusual to you? Did it affect what happened to her later?

8. What effect do all the details about the glove trade have upon the narrative? How do they illuminate the story?

9. Do you believe Merry when she says that she doesn''t know Rita Cohen? If she is telling the truth, who might Rita Cohen be? What is her function within the story?

10. The Swede planned his life to be picture perfect, and he lived that life until it turned dark and violent. Was his life the essential American Dream, or was it a nightmare rather than a pastoral? What comment does the novel''s title make upon the story it tells?

11. What are Merry''s feelings for America? What are her feelings for her parents? How are the two connected?

12. Merry''s stuttering began to disappear when she worked with dynamite. What emotional purpose did Merry''s stuttering serve, and why was she able to leave the handicap behind her when she left home?

13. When the Swede calls Jerry to ask for his advice, he is treated to a diatribe. "What''s the matter with you?" Jerry asks. "You''re acceding to her the way you acceded to your father, the way you have acceded to everything in your life" [p. 273]. Is Jerry right? Should the Swede force Merry to come home? Why does the Swede refuse Jerry''s offer to come get Merry himself?

14. Why does Merry, when she becomes a Jain, choose to settle in the neighborhood of her father''s factory in Newark?

15. Does Dawn, in reinventing herself after Merry''s disappearance, seem ruthless to you, or do you sympathize with her struggle for personal survival? When she tells Bill Orcutt that she always hated the Old Rimrock house, is she telling the truth? And is she telling the truth when she claims she is glad that she didn''t become Miss America?

16. Describing his brother, Jerry says, "In one way he could be conceived as completely banal and conventional. An absence of negative values and nothing more. Bred to be dumb, built for convention, and so on" [p. 65]. Is this how you see Swede Levov by the end of the novel? Does he depart from banality and convention?

17. "His great looks, his larger-than-lifeness, his glory, our sense of his having been exempted from all self-doubt by his heroic role--that all these manly properties had precipitated a political murder made me think of the compelling story...of Kennedy" [p. 83]. In what ways do American Pastoral''s political metaphors reflect the story of mid-century America? Why might they be presented through a Kennedy-like figure?

18. The Swede" had learned the worst lesson that life can teach--that it makes no sense." What leads him to this conclusion? Did his life in fact make no sense?

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