American Pastoral (American Trilogy #1)

American Pastoral (American Trilogy #1)

by Philip Roth

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Winner of the Pulitzer Prize

Here is Philip Roth's masterpiece—an elegy for the American 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 longed-for American pastoral and into the indigenous American berserk. Compulsively readable, propelled by sorrow, rage, and a deep compassion for its characters, American Pastoral gives us Philip Roth at the height of his powers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375701429
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/28/1998
Series: Nathan Zuckerman Series
Edition description: Reprinted Edition
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 82,694
Product dimensions: 5.19(w) x 8.04(h) x 0.94(d)

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 twice won the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He 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.” 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. 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. He died in 2018.



Date of Birth:

March 19, 1933

Place of Birth:

Newark, New Jersey


B.A. in English, Bucknell University, 1954; M.A. in English, University of Chicago, 1955

Read an Excerpt


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 all their hopes. Primarily, they could forget the war.

The elevation of Swede Levov into the household Apollo of the Weequahic Jews can best be explained, I think, by the war against the Germans and the Japanese and the fears that it fostered. With the Swede indomitable on the playing field, the meaningless surface of life provided a bizarre, delusionary kind of sustenance, the happy release into a Swedian innocence, for those who lived in dread of never seeing their sons or their brothers or their husbands again.

And how did this affect him-the glorification, the sanctification, of every hook shot he sank, every pass he leaped up and caught, every line drive he rifled for a double down the left-field line? Is this what made him that staid and stone-faced boy? Or was the mature-seeming sobriety the outward manifestation of an arduous inward struggle to keep in check the narcissism that an entire community was ladling with love? The high school cheerleaders had a cheer for the Swede. Unlike the other cheers, meant to inspire the whole team or to galvanize the spectators, this was a rhythmic, foot-stomping tribute to the Swede alone, enthusiasm for his perfection undiluted and unabashed. The cheer rocked the gym at basketball games every time he took a rebound or scored a point, swept through our side of City Stadium at football games any time he gained a yard or intercepted a pass. Even at the sparsely attended home baseball games up at Irvington Park, where there was no cheerleading squad eagerly kneeling at the sidelines, you could hear it thinly chanted by the handful of Weequahic stalwarts in the wooden stands not only when the Swede came up to bat but when he made no more than a routine putout at first base. It was a cheer that consisted of eight syllables, three of them his name, and it went, Bah bah-bah! Bah bah bah . . . bah-bah! and the tempo, at football games particularly, accelerated with each repetition until, at the peak of frenzied adoration, an explosion of skirt-billowing cartwheels was ecstatically discharged and the orange gym bloomers of ten sturdy little cheerleaders flickered like fireworks before our marveling eyes . . . and not for love of you or me but of the wonderful Swede. "Swede Levov! It rhymes with . . . 'The Love'! . . . Swede Levov! It rhymes with . . . 'The Love'! . . . Swede Levov! It rhymes with . . . 'The Love'!"

Yes, everywhere he looked, people were in love with him. The candy store owners we boys pestered called the rest of us "Hey-you-no!" or "Kid-cut-it-out!"; him they called, respectfully, "Swede. Parents smiled and benignly addressed him as "Seymour. The chattering girls he passed on the street would ostentatiously swoon, and the bravest would holler after him, "Come back, come back, Levov of my life!" And he let it happen, walked about the neighborhood in possession of all that love, looking as though he didn't feel a thing. Contrary to whatever daydreams the rest of us may have had about the enhancing effect on ourselves of total, uncritical, idolatrous adulation, the love thrust upon the Swede seemed actually to deprive him of feeling. In this boy embraced as a symbol of hope by so many-as the embodiment of the strength, the resolve, the emboldened valor that would prevail to return our high school's servicemen home unscathed from Midway, Salerno, Cherbourg, the Solomons, the Aleutians, Tarawa-there appeared to be not a drop of wit or irony to interfere with his golden gift for responsibility.

But wit or irony is like a hitch in his swing for a kid like the Swede, irony being a human consolation and beside the point if you're getting your way as a god. Either there was a whole side to his personality that he was suppressing or that was as yet asleep or, more likely, there wasn't. His aloofness, his seeming passivity as the desired object of all this asexual lovemaking, made him appear, if not divine, a distinguished cut above the more primordial humanity of just about everybody else at the school. He was fettered to history, an instrument of history, esteemed with a passion that might never have been if he'd broken the Weequahic basketball record-by scoring twenty-seven points against Barringer-on a day other than the sad, sad day in 1943 when fifty-eight Flying Fortresses were shot down by Luftwaffe fighter planes, two fell victim to flak, and five more crashed after crossing the English coast on their way back from bombing Germany.

The Swede's younger brother was my classmate, Jerry Levov, a scrawny, small-headed, oddly overflexible boy built along the lines of a licorice stick, something of a mathematical wizard, and the January 1950 valedictorian. Though Jerry never really had a friendship with anyone, in his imperious, irascible way, he took an interest in me over the years, and that was how I wound up, from the age of ten, regularly getting beaten by him at Ping-Pong in the finished basement of the Levovs' one-family house, on the corner of Wyndmoor and Keer-the word "finished" indicating that it was paneled in knotty pine, domesticated, and not, as Jerry seemed to think, that the basement was the perfect place for finishing off another kid.

The explosiveness of Jerry's aggression at a Ping-Pong table exceeded his brother's in any sport. A Ping-Pong ball is, brilliantly, sized and shaped so that it cannot take out your eye. I would not otherwise have played in Jerry Levov's basement. If it weren't for the opportunity to tell people that I knew my way around Swede Levov's house, nobody could have got me down into that basement, defenseless but for a small wooden paddle. Nothing that weighs as little as a Ping-Pong ball can be lethal, yet when Jerry whacked that thing murder couldn't have been far from his mind. It never occurred to me that this violent display might have something to do with what it was like for him to be the kid brother of Swede Levov. Since I couldn't imagine anything better than being the Swede's brother-short of being the Swede himself-I failed to understand that for Jerry it might be difficult to imagine anything worse.

The Swede's bedroom-which I never dared enter but would pause to gaze into when I used the toilet outside Jerry's room-was tucked under the eaves at the back of the house. With its slanted ceiling and dormer windows and Weequahic pennants on the walls, it looked like what I thought of as a real boy's room. From the two windows that opened out over the back lawn you could see the roof of the Levovs' garage, where the Swede as a grade school kid practiced hitting in the wintertime by swinging at a baseball taped to a cord hung from a rafter-an idea he might have got from a baseball novel by John R. Tunis called The Kid from Tomkinsville. I came to that book and to other of Tunis's baseball books-Iron Duke, The Duke Decides, Champion's Choice, Keystone Kids, Rookie of the Year-by spotting them on the built-in shelf beside the Swede's bed, all lined up alphabetically between two solid bronze bookends that had been a bar mitzvah gift, miniaturized replicas of Rodin's "The Thinker." Immediately I went to the library to borrow all the Tunis books I could find and started with The Kid from Tomkinsville, a grim, gripping book to a boy, simply written, stiff in places but direct and dignified, about the Kid, Roy Tucker, a clean-cut young pitcher from the rural Connecticut hills whose father dies when he is four and whose mother dies when he is sixteen and who helps his grandmother make ends meet by working the family farm during the day and working at night in town at "MacKenzie's drugstore on the corner of South Main.'

The book, published in 1940, had black-and-white drawings that, with just a little expressionistic distortion and just enough anatomical skill, cannily pictorialize the hardness of the Kid's life, back before the game of baseball was illuminated with a million statistics, back when it was about the mysteries of earthly fate, when major leaguers looked less like big healthy kids and more like lean and hungry workingmen. The drawings seemed conceived out of the dark austerities of Depression America. Every ten pages or so, to succinctly depict a dramatic physical moment in the story-"He was able to put a little steam in it," "It was over the fence," "Razzle limped to the dugout"-there is a blackish, ink-heavy rendering of a scrawny, shadow-faced ballplayer starkly silhouetted on a blank page, isolated, like the world's most lonesome soul, from both nature and man, or set in a stippled simulation of ballpark grass, dragging beneath him the skinny statuette of a wormlike shadow. He is unglamorous even in a baseball uniform; if he is the pitcher, his gloved hand looks like a paw; and what image after image makes graphically clear is that playing up in the majors, heroic though it may seem, is yet another form of backbreaking, unremunerative labor.

The Kid from Tomkinsville could as well have been called The Lamb from Tomkinsville, even The Lamb from Tomkinsville Led to the Slaughter. In the Kid's career as the spark-plug newcomer to a last-place Brooklyn Dodger club, each triumph is rewarded with a punishing disappointment or a crushing accident. The staunch attachment that develops between the lonely, homesick Kid and the Dodgers' veteran catcher, Dave Leonard, who successfully teaches him the ways of the big leagues and who, "with his steady brown eyes behind the plate." shepherds him through a no-hitter, comes brutally undone six weeks into the season, when the old-timer is dropped overnight from the club's roster. "Here was a speed they didn't often mention in baseball: the speed with which a player rises-and goes down." Then, after the Kid wins his fifteenth consecutive game-a rookie record that no pitcher in either league has ever exceeded-he's accidentally knocked off his feet in the shower by boisterous teammates who are horsing around after the great victory, and the elbow injury sustained in the fall leaves him unable ever to pitch again. He rides the bench for the rest of the year, pinch-hitting because of his strength at the plate, and then, over the snowy winter-back home in Connecticut spending days on the farm and evenings at the drugstore, well known now but really Grandma's boy all over again-he works diligently by himself on Dave Leonard's directive to keep his swing level ("A tendency to keep his right shoulder down, to swing up, was his worst fault"), suspending a ball from a string out in the barn and whacking at it on cold winter mornings with "his beloved bat" until he has worked himself into a sweat. "'Crack . . .' The clean sweet sound of a bat squarely meeting a ball." By the next season he is ready to return to the Dodgers as a speedy right fielder, bats .325 in the second spot, and leads his team down to the wire as a contender. On the last day of the season, in a game against the Giants, who are in first place by only half a game, the Kid kindles the Dodgers' hitting attack, and in the bottom of the fourteenth-with two down, two men on, and the Dodgers ahead on a run scored by the Kid with his audacious, characteristically muscular baserunning-he makes the final game-saving play, a running catch smack up against the right center-field wall. That tremendous daredevil feat sends the Dodgers into the World Series and leaves him "writhing in agony on the green turf of deep right center." Tunis concludes like this: "Dusk descended upon a mass of players, on a huge crowd pouring onto the field, on a couple of men carrying an inert form through the mob on a stretcher . . . There was a clap of thunder. Rain descended upon the Polo Grounds." Descended, descended, a clap of thunder, and thus ends the boys' Book of Job.

I was ten and I had never read anything like it. The cruelty of life. The injustice of it. I could not believe it. The reprehensible member of the Dodgers is Razzle Nugent, a great pitcher but a drunk and a hothead, a violent bully fiercely jealous of the Kid. And yet it is not Razzle carried off "inert" on a stretcher but the best of them all, the farm orphan called the Kid, modest, serious, chaste, loyal, naive, undiscourageable, hard-working, soft-spoken, courageous, a brilliant athlete, a beautiful, austere boy. Needless to say, I thought of the Swede and the Kid as one and wondered how the Swede could bear to read this book that had left me near tears and unable to sleep. Had I had the courage to address him, I would have asked if he thought the ending meant the Kid was finished or whether it meant the possibility of yet another comeback. The word "inert" terrified me. Was the Kid killed by the last catch of the year? Did the Swede know? Did he care? Did it occur to him that if disaster could strike down the Kid from Tomkinsville, it could come and strike the great Swede down too? Or was a book about a sweet star savagely and unjustly punished-a book about a greatly gifted innocent whose worst fault is a tendency to keep his right shoulder down and swing up but whom the thundering heavens destroy nonetheless-simply a book between those "Thinker" bookends up on his shelf?

Reading Group Guide

The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your group's reading of Philip Roth's American Pastoral. We hope they will open up new approaches to this explosive and viscerally moving novel by one of the most esteemed American writers of the twentieth century.

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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American Pastoral 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 109 reviews.
NathanDPhillips More than 1 year ago
Good, but nowhere near Roth's best. I am suprised this is heralded by many as Roth's masterpiece. I think it is far from it. The book is good, don't get me wrong. If written as a debut novel, the author would be jettisoned into Frazen-like popularity. It's good, it's good, it's all good. But, as much as I may have wanted to, I couldn't say it's great. Because it's simply good. The characters are interesting but not revolutionary. The prose is great, but not as sharp as Sabbath or Nemesis. So much about the novel is good. So. Much. But it's not his masterpiece. I will say. This book has one particular joke that made me laugh harder than anything I've ever read. It is simultaneously the worst and funniest thing that ink ever put on paper.  I shan't ruin it here though. I shall only say it regards circumcision and the priesthood. 
marc-medios More than 1 year ago
I have been a Philip Roth fan all of my life. Since Portnoy's Complaint, When She Was Good, Goodbye Columbus... this book is absolutely nowhere near it. The first 80 or so pages are downright boring; the narrative is OK and shows experience in writing, but the characters are oddly disengaging and, frankly, I don't feel anything for the Swede, Jerry, Merry or any of the cast of characters. Nothing. Like a blank. Or an empty space. I truly would not recommend it.
JiminAk More than 1 year ago
The title of Dave Eggers "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" may have coined the phrase which may best describe this monumental novel. All of us have had a Swede Lenov (Roth's protagonist) touch our lives at some point. Swede is the American "everyman", whose successes are carried humbly through his life until he experiences a dismantling of which he was unprepared to ever comprehend. Roth expertly crafts this story using sketches of his secondary characters in a manner which delivers essential facts yet doesn't explore them any more than necessary. This book has joined my list of favorites, and ranked highly among them.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I became immersed in this book and read it in one week. Each character is so different, yet Roth points to their strengths and weaknesses in his successful effort to unite them in one multi-dimentional reality. The wordiness is necessary and ingenious. Roth, by drawing you into conversations and thoughts, brings you as close as an author can bring you to the characters and their perceptions. It's a great book that will grab and take hold of you until you are finished reading. Then, it'll stay with you for certain.
Guest More than 1 year ago
American Pastoral is the background for one seemingly idyllic family in post-war and Vietnam-era America. The story intertwines the love story of an All-American high school football star Swede Levov and a ravishing, determined former Miss New Jersey Dawn Dwyer. Together they weave the perfect romance, buying a country home in rural, Revolutionary-era New Jersey, fusing religious differences between their families, and raising a child who seems to be the culmination of the construction of an insurmountable family fortress. But from the novel's opening in present day, misconception runs rampant throughout the storyline. The novel's shifting narrator initially encounters the older Swede Levov, and quickly compiles in his mind what must be this successful businessman's and laudable family man's history, only to find the exact opposite. Amid the turbulent sixties, it seems the rearing of the Levov's daughter, Merry, has gone amiss, not by any doing of their own, but from external intangibilities. At the age of 16, Merry systematically blows up the local market, killing one prominent resident and sending her own family into turmoil. She flees, and it seems that the Levovs cannot combat the grief and despair which is the fallout not only of their daughter's alienation and abandon, but also (later) of her being adament to blame her seemingly ideal and serene upbringing as the catalyst for her rebellion. Philip Roth brings into question both sides of this argument: the utter irrationality of Merry's actions, and Swede Levov's vain attempt to reason and pinpoint his daughter's deviance. The alteration in the narrative between flashback times of peace, a congenial family, his utter devotion to his wife...and current ones of despair, psychologically estranged friends, and a static lifestyle, seem to tear Swede Levov in two. The novel explores our desires for the ordered life and its consequences, the validity of trying to maintain such a lifestyle in spite of unassailable corruption, and the worth of the trust we place in our friends, family, and selves. In many ways, the novel is a progression distrust (nearly incorrect and inoperable paranoia), where irrevocably, every relationship and institution in which Swede Levov has found consolation is challenged, if not wholly destroyed. By the end of Roth's sweeping and panoramic achievement, we get a sense that it is the Levovs ideal life at fault...their want to uphold the American dream, to love each other, protect each other from harm, live a life merely amongst themselves, on the surface, not ignorant of the world, but content with themselves. At its core, American Pastoral questions the very epitomy of existence and contentment which we idealize, and its flawed impregnability. There is nothing much more tragic than the exact opposite outcome of what a life of protective diligence has attempted to immortalize, yet that is the subject matter of this novel. A tremendous work.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Long winded? Yes. Detailed? Yes. However if you love excellent character development along with a magnificent story line, this book is for you. Intelligent and empathetic, this is a masterpiece worthy of reading again and again!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of Roth's best books and by far his best treatment of the American dream . The whole story of as one reader - reviewer says here of a person who does everything right, and yet whose life comes out wrong is a kind of moral message for many of us. There is much pain and beauty in this work, and one incredibly moving and funny set- piece , that of the high- school reunion with the veterans parading their trophies and bandages that makes for great reading. There is too a little much dutiful description of the leather industry and also a bit too much of a life going from one crisis- transformation to another . It may be true to reality, but does anyone have the patience to follow reality in all its details. Nonetheless one of Roth's best and most insightful in understanding the complex American worlds of the late twentieth century.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Bookmarque on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm so glad this wasn't my 2nd attempt at Philip Roth's work, it would have put me off him forever. It must be a generational thing because I didn't get it in the way I'm sure someone my parent's age or my grandparent's age would have. This is not to say I didn't understand it; I did, but the way it was presented was comical and trying in the extreme. It made me feel pity for that generation in their locked in state; unable to flow or to grow with change, wanting everything the same for ever and ever.Waaahh, my daughter didn't turn out exactly like me. Waaahh, the American Dream is dead. Waaah, politicians are unscrupulous. Waaahhh, war isn't fun. Waaahh, why can't everyone just love and respect 'the greatest generation' and not make us responsible for anything? Waaahh, why can't I be a Jewish WASP? Waaahhh. Ugh. What a horrible follow up read for me on the heels of The Human Stain. I won't give up on Mr. Roth, but this novel was so long, drawn out and simultaneously self-pitying and self-congratulatory that I had to force myself to finish it.
shequiltz on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm trying to read this but it is just so darn boring and obtuse. The plot is plodding to say the least and I'm betting I'll abandon this book soon, something I rarely do.Update: Yep I abandoned it. Just way too slow with no focus.
drewfull on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a taxing novel. Roth slow-plays his plot development to align with and mimic the slow, steady demise of the Swede so that when he feels the walls closing in on him you the reader feel similarly. The result is simply an amazing, atmospheric novel that deconstructs the American dream and those who seek it and forces us to ask basic questions about how and why we interact with the world the way we do.Yes, at times it crawls. There's no clear ending. Things seem to occur for no reason. This is life as we know it, right?
RandyMetcalfe on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Philip Roth¿s American Pastoral is filled with bile, lyrical bile. Whether in the voice of Seymour Levov, ¿the Swede¿, or his brother Jerry, or his father Lou, or the Swede¿s daughter, Merry, or almost any other character, the potential for an excoriating rant is virtually irresistible. The anger, or envy, or contempt, or, sometimes, distorting idolatry, is released shotgun fashion ¿ its spread is wide and indiscriminate and it may not necessarily kill what it hits. Distorting idolatry might sound odd in that list, but love in this novel, whether of Zuckerman for the Swede, the Swede for his daughter or his wife, or various characters for ¿America¿, is often so blurred and overridden with wish fulfilment that it begins to feel a bit more like hate for whatever the real object of that love might be.The novel opens with a long framing device in which Roth¿s writerly alter-ego, Zuckerman, introduces us to the Swede. The Swede is almost too good to be true, and not surprisingly cracks in the façade soon begin to emerge. At that point the frame of Zuckerman is dropped and the novel continues in revelatory fashion from the Swede¿s perspective. That has the effect of making the frame appear to have been superfluous. No matter. By then the rants are in full flown against LBJ, the war in Vietnam, capitalism, anti-capitalism, Nixon, intellectualism, almost each character, against the narrator (the Swede) himself, and more.We follow the Swede from his origins in Newark to the superficially idyllic and pastoral setting of Old Rimrock, with his near-Miss-America wife, Dawn, and their stuttering daughter, Merry. Merry¿s impulse to rant is nearly matched by her speech impediment. It is an articulate inarticulateness, with explosive consequences, that is mirrored by other characters, and, possibly, by Roth himself. We see pyrotechnical displays of language but I fear it may be mere display. As ever there is no counter-balance, and the reader is left with the suspicion that despite piercing insight, Roth has missed something equally obvious. Or at least that is how this reader reacts.
gypsysmom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I listened to this book rather than read it. The narration was excellent and I enjoyed almost all of it but in the end I was disappointed with it.The book centres on Seymour Lvov, a star athlete in school in New Jersey in the early 1940¿s. Seymour, nicknamed Swede, could do almost any sport and he was handsome to boot. He seemed to have the perfect life. He married Miss New Jersey of 1949 and they had one child, a girl named Merry. They moved from the city to rural New Jersey and lived in an old farmhouse with attached farmland. Seymour went in to business in his father¿s glove factory and he loved it. Except for Merry¿s stuttering, everything was going well until his daughter hit teenage years in the 1960s. She protested the war but so did her parents and many of their friends and neighbours. Then Merry did something to make an anti-war statement; she blew up the local general store, killing a well-loved local doctor in the process. Merry disappeared and for many months Seymour did not hear from her. Finally a young woman claiming to be an associate of Merry¿s contacted Seymour and asked for money. The money was given to her but there was still no contact with Merry. Mrs. Lvov had a breakdown and was hospitalized several times. Seymour continued on with his business and looking after his wife but his heart was broken. When he finally does meet again with Merry, years later, she is unrecognizable and crazy. Then he goes home and discovers his wife is having an affair with the next door neighbour. This is how the book ends and I found it unsatisfactory because we know from the beginning of the book that Seymour went on to remarry and have three sons. I would have liked to know how that happened but Roth doesn¿t explain and he also doesn¿t explain how Merry went from a good suburban girl to a murderer and fanatic. I guess I don¿t have the emotional depth to identify with the main character and what I really wanted to know was how Merry finally ended up.
kitinka on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of my all-time favorite books.
EpicTale on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Excellent, well-told story which really gets under your skin. Roth's portrayal of his characters -- expecially Swede and his dad, Dawn, and Orcutt -- was credible and engaging. Roth has a fine eye and ear for depicting how life happens, both the mundane bits and the extraordinary, even if the "why" goes beyond explaining.
bibliovermis on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Getting through the opening 95 pages was a struggle. Then, the book ended just when it was getting interesting.
Di_M on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was the first Philip Roth novel I picked up which turned me in to an instant fan. It's well written, the characters are interesting and the story compelling. I highly recommend it and consider it to be one of his best novels.
letteredlibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Nathan Zuckerman returns to narrate the story of his childhood idol, Seymour "The Swede" Levov. The Swede has lived a charmed life as a high school sports star who becomes a successful businessman and marries a beauty queen. His life takes a dark turn, however, when his troubled teen-aged daughter succumbs to the violence and hysteria of 1960s America. His earnest pursuit of the American dream does not prepare him for the betrayal that he ultimately experiences, and he dies without being able to understand or accept the undeserved cruelty of his fate.Roth frames the story of the The Swede with Nathan Zuckerman's own attempts to understand the man he had once idolized. Zuckerman ultimately realizes that he has misread The Swede, that what pertains on the surface of the person does not well reflect the unknowable core of suffering and responsibility that motivates him from within.This is a nuanced portrait of a magnetic personality and those who orbit around him without ever guessing at the tragedy behind the man.
bohemima on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Overlong and wordy, this is nevertheless a good novel, with occasional flashes of Roth's old brilliance. "The Swede" Levov, a Jewish star high-school athlete, lives the American fairy tale: family rises quickly from immigrant to wealthy, principled manufacturers, the son marries a beauty queen, and lives in a marvelous old house in an affluent WASP town. Then his daughter brings the whole glittering balloon down by bombing the local p.o./general store, killing a local doctor. The Swede's life slowly but inexorably deteriorates...with heavily-drawn, and drawn-out parallels to American society Many digressions make this reading experience somewhat like eating at a Chinese buffet restaurant.
gabebaker on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is my third Roth, following Portnoy's Complaint and Sabbath's Theater. I was voluntarily Roth-less for about three years following each of my prior Roth reads, and it will likely be three more years before I pick him up again. It's not Roth's prose that accounts for my reluctance. He write good, especially when he's describing Newark in its bustling, industrial heyday. But I don't read novels to get depressed, and Roth's novels depress me. It's not the subject matter - my current fav Denis Johnson isn't all about rainbows and lemon drops. But Roth's powerful descriptions of his characters' internal miseries effectively drag me down into the hopeless territory they are inhabiting. The lack of resolution of the most interesting plot line was also mildly irritating.
donitamblyn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I recently finished an outstandingly beautiful novel (THE MASTER PLANETS by Donald Gallinger), and immediately went into one of those "I'll-Never-Find-Anything-As-Good-Again" funks. Then I found this book, which is not only a brilliant piece of literature (it's by Roth, after all), but also deals with some fascinating issues similar to those in PLANETS--issues I wanted to read more about. As just one example: I am not Jewish, but have noticed in certain writings something uniquely poignant in the Jewish love for America immediately after World War II. This was the country that had taken in many Jews' parents and grandparents in a way never before experienced, I believe. For the first time they were not outsiders, but simply immigrants in a land full of immigrants. And for the first time, every opportunity--in this nation of bounteous opportunities--was open to them. It is not surprising that the name "America" would become almost a hymn on the lips of many American Jews in this period, that they would develop an unparalleled love for their country. As all of America basked in a cornucopian economy and the righteous sense that our own good works had entitled us to it, American Jews were, perhaps, "Ultimate Americans." So it is also not surprising that, like everyone else, they also gave little thought to the idea that the richness of life here was too well fed by our military industrial complex and exploitation of Third World nations. The protagonist, Seymour "Swede" Levov, certainly does not think about these things, and therein lies his downfall. As Amazon reviewer Ian Muldoon so aptly notes, the central question of the book is whether it is acceptable for Levov to to accept that he is one of the lucky ones and simply enjoy his place in time and history, or whether his good luck also carries an obligation. An inherently decent man, Levov does not look beyond his own life to wonder if it impinges on the lives of others. But his daughter cannot feel so sanguine. Merry has not had the good fortune of Seymour and his wife to be thought "perfect": She grew up with a terrible stutter, over which her beautiful parents agonized. Is this what gave her the ability (willingness? determination?) to see the fissures in the edifice they revere? In any event, she sees the fissures yawning, and her answer is to place sticks of dynamite in them. And later to withdraw so far from the world that she scarcely eats so as not to "destroy plant life," and will not even wash for fear of "harming the water." She has started by demolishing the world around her, and is now obliterating herself. Miraculously, the stutter that at one time "terrified" Levov is gone... as she herself soon will be.AMERICAN PASTORAL is the story of a beautiful nation that, about 40 years ago, let some part of its best self slip away. As the "Ultimate American," Levov is the perfect symbol. As he thinks, so thought we.
jamguest on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very difficult and very good. A little perplexed at how we just leave the narrator (Nathan Zuckerman) for the Swede. I liked only having his perspective though. Still, not seemingly tragic enough because we never return to the narrator for summation and criticism. Maybe that¿s why it¿s as good as it is. Maybe it suffers from not being able to be better than it was. Still, feels like something is missing. Great prose. Great, great characters. A little too much influence on gloves, but gloves serve as a good, extended metaphor for hiding the icy coldness of the American pastoral.
rossryanross on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
God, this is a depressing book, but it is among Roth's best novels. In the main character, the Swede, Roth gives us a near-perfect 20th century American man. He is handsome, athletic, has a loving family and a good head for business. He is married to Miss New Jersey. He seems to have everything he could ever want. But, of course, that is never the case, and nothing stays perfect, as Roth's often-used narrator Nathan Zuckerman points out. For the Swede has a young daughter who, while intelligent and full of potential, hates her affluent, all-American family and everything they represent. And in the wake of her becoming a terrorist, Nathan Zuckerman tries to imagine what might have driven this young girl to such drastic extremes in behavior and, at the same time, he tries to hash out how America has come to be embroiled in the extremes of the Vietnam War. American Pastoral is a superb novel.
tangborn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found this to be an emotionally draining book. It is a dark view of America, where anyone's life can disintegrate without warning. It is the first book by Roth that I read that is not strictly autobiographical, yet it is one of his darkest. Yet his prose is a pleasure to read, and the details that he reveals about each of the characters were both helpful to the story, and well done. I think it shows the significant progress that he made in his writing at this point in his career.
closedmouth on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
(Reviewed July 12, 2009)Begins very slowly, and I was worried I'd started something I couldn't bear to see to the end, but takes an early twist and starts to get very strange and very intense. The insight into the misguided American Dream is devastating, and the epic, loping tangents a pleasure and a pain to read. This is really quite beautiful.