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When She Was Good by Philip Roth
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When She Was Good (1967)

by Philip Roth

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    An American Type by Henry Roth (Anonymous user)
    Anonymous user: irrelevant lyrics by old men called Roth
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This is my second Roth and I have to say he captivates me immediately with his writing style, and i feel myself drawn swiftly into a story into which very little is happening, yet i did not want to stop reading. Lots of stuff in this about moral right and wrong versus common sense 'right and wrong' and the utter chaos families can inflict on each other in often self-centered attempts to do what is 'right.' Lots of enabling goes on in this that ultimately allows the turmoil to continue, and a tremendous amount of denial and hiding of truths (1960's suburban culture) that really causes the most destruction. In spite of that somewhat negative outlook, i liked it quite a bit. ( )
  jeffome | Nov 4, 2013 |
Not an easy read, with so many characters behaving so horribly to each other so much of the time. Lucy's story felt more like it was about depression and mental illness than anger and morality though, and I couldn't help but feel sympathy for her, even when she was at her worst and most emotionally abusive. She really needed help, but instead everything just became worse for her, and all of those around her. ( )
  evilmoose | Oct 27, 2013 |
Interesting mental exercise by a male writer in trying to imagine rage as primary motivation in a female protagonist. The results are not truly successful. Off the top of my head, The Bell Jar could be used as a female penned counterpoint, and you'll see this novel's short comings. The dimensions of true inner rage are the most intimate aspects of anyone's persona -they are difficult to counterfeit and they are often intrinsically tied up with sexual identity in ways we desperately keep hidden from the other sex -so they are the most difficult for the opposite sex to grasp.
Still, a brave undertaking. Or an exercise borne of narcissistic conceit -take your pick. ( )
  arthurfrayn | Jul 18, 2011 |
This was Roth's second full-length novel, published in 1966. Roth is a huge literary hero of mine. I've read almost all of his works and decided to go back and read one of the four remaining Roth books still awaiting me.

This is a tough book to get through. The protagonist, if that word can be used for a character so unpleasant, is Lucy Nelson, child of an alcoholic and abusive father who goes through life with fists clenched, trying with all her might to control her family and friends in order to push them to live up to her impossible standards of morality and propriety. Her husband, well-meaning but ineffectual, is unfortunately made of much less noble stuff.

Less skillfully than he would in his later career, Roth plays with narrative time, giving us in particular one important piece of the storyline out of order, shifting point of view so that we see aspects of the action from several perspectives. This all might be very cool, except that Lucy herself is wound so tight and is, most of the time, so unforgiving and unpleasant, that the book is often very hard to get through.

In the end, I would recommend When She Was Good to Roth completists only. As a glimpse into the novelist in transition, beginning to work out issues of theme and form that he would later conquer so brilliantly (a matter of opinion, I know), the book is interesting. Purely as a reading experience, though, probably not a valuable enough experience for most readers. As such, this book was a step back from Roth amazing debut, the novella Goodbye Columbus, and even, if I remember right (I read it very long ago), his first full-length novel, Letting Go.

Roth's next at bat produced the explosively funny Portnoy's Complaint. After that, Roth was, mostly, off and running for a long, long time. ( )
  rocketjk | Jul 9, 2011 |
A very interesting work. The focus of the book is Lucy, a ferociously moralistic young woman in 1940s small town America. Defining herself in opposition to her alcoholic father, she has grown to believe that she is the only truly moral fighter against a bad world. Roth brilliantly uses her absolutist and pitiless gaze to explore the flawed but well-meaning characters around her. In opposition to this never-endingly harsh point of view, we are drawn into compassionately engaging with their (and our) human failings. As the book progresses and Lucy's self-imposed social isolation worsens, these characters retreat into a background against which Lucy rails in an increasingly hopeless monologue against all around her. Occasionally, she seems to show flashes of understanding of her central role in her husband's and family's struggles, but these are quickly hidden by her inability to see any good in her father.

Loved it. ( )
  Whaddney | Dec 9, 2009 |
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To my brother Sandy; to my friends Alison Bishop, Bob Brustein, George Elliott, Mary Emma Elliott, Howard Stein, and Mel Tumin; and to Ann Mudge: For words spoken and deeds done
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Not to be rich, not to be famous, not to be mighty, not even to be happy, but to be civilized - that was the dream of his life.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679759255, Paperback)

In this funny and chilling novel, the setting is a small town in the 1940s Midwest, and the subject is the heart of a wounded and ferociously moralistic young woman, one of those implacable American moralists whose "goodness" is a terrible disease.

When she was still a child, Lucy Nelson had her alcoholic failure of a father thrown in jail. Ever since then she has been trying to reform the men around her, even if that ultimately means destroying herself in the process. With his unerring portraits of Lucy and her hapless, childlike husband, Roy, Roth has created an uncompromising work of fictional realism, a vision of provincial American piety, yearning, and discontent that is at once pitiless and compassionate.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:01:31 -0400)

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