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American Pastoral by Philip Roth

American Pastoral (1997)

by Philip Roth

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The American Trilogy (1), Zuckerman Bound (6)

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5,889131710 (3.93)193

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This novel is a literary character study about an American man growing up in post-World War II New Jersey. Seymour “Swede” Levov grew up the son of a Jewish immigrant glove maker. His nickname was earned by being the blond haired, blue eyed high school heart throb that was a star on the football, baseball and basketball teams.

After high school, Swede leaves and joins the Marines. It is the very end of World War II and instead of storming the beaches in Europe or the Pacific, Swede becomes the star of the Marine baseball league. He meets a gentile girl but his parents dissuade him from marrying her.

He returns to Newark, New Jersey to learn the ropes in running his father’s glove factory from the ground up. He meets an Irish Catholic beauty pageant winner who has established her local identity as Miss New Jersey and failed to grab the Miss America Crown.

They have a daughter, Merry, born during the post-war baby boom. An only child, she is brought up in the suburban/semi-rural landscape outside of Newark – sheltered and protected from the urban environment and brought up as a typical suburbanite. She is showered with every advantage an only child can have.

As with every teenager, as Merry grows up, she begins to distance herself from her parents and their values and ideals. This part of the story takes place in the mid to late 1960’s against a backdrop of anti-war protests and political unrest. Merry starts to disappear on frequent trips to New York City despite being underage and against her parents’ wishes.

As the story unfolds, it turns out Merry has joined the Weathermen and through her radicalization, she bombs her local suburban grocery store/post office, killing a man who was the local doctor. Her parents are mortified and the story then becomes about how they are ostracized or pitied by other community members and their breakdowns – both personal and marital.

This is a slowly unfolding character study so readers should be advised to give it time and attention and not look for a big payoff. This is a thought piece. If I had to offer a comparison, it might be the 1970’s set “The Ice Storm.”

I enjoyed this book and recommend it for those who enjoy Mad Men era stories. This is an American classic. ( )
  ozzie65 | Oct 11, 2017 |
Where does one begin when trying to describe American Pastoral? The jumping off point might be to say this: in the beginning of AP reoccurring character Nathan Zuckerman is attending his 45th high school reunion where he runs into the brother of Seymour "Swede" Levov. The Swede was a high school athletic god with the seemingly perfect life. Through this meeting the reader hears the details of how Seymour's life ended up. But, that's oversimplifying the story in a huge way. Zuckerman's narrative dies off and American Pastoral becomes more of a commentary on a variety of subjects. At the center is Swede Levov and the continuation of his perfect high school life (now in the 1960s in the suburbs of New Jersey; successful upper class businessman, married to former Miss New Jersey). Everything is perfect. Enter the Vietnam War and a willful, protesting daughter. All hell breaks loose when Merry commits an act of terror, bombing a post office and killing a man. American Pastoral takes a look at what it means to be a family facing falling apart and scandal, what it means to have faith, what it means to lose faith, what it means to be an American, what it means to be un-American and everything in between. ( )
  SeriousGrace | Jun 22, 2017 |
Good Lord, what a novel. Funny how you can read hundreds of books and still be utterly blown away by a single one.

Summarizing this would be like making a movie adaption out of it (which, God knows how, they did). Imagine all pain, anger and confusion infused into one man and his family, imagine everything going wrong for someone who worked hard for the exact opposite, who deserved it perhaps least of all.

Also, Roth is a language-magician.
  bartt95 | Mar 3, 2017 |
422 out of 423 these printed pages are as close to written perfection in a novel as I've ever read. One caution: Do NOT read this if you are in desperate need of something to restore your faith in humanity. ( )
  dele2451 | Jan 28, 2017 |
This one was hard for me. For some reason I really struggled to make it through this book, but once I made my way through I found it to be fantastically heartbreaking.

I am a huge fan of Philip Roth and although I don't always tend to agree with the critics, this is certainly one of his greatest novels. The heartbreak at the center of the American Dream is beautifully rendered here. And Roth's Swede expertly shows us that no amount of refashioning or perfecting one's self can ensure a happy ending. ( )
  SnowcatCradle | Jan 2, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 117 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (28 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Philip Rothprimary authorall editionscalculated
Drazdauskienė, Rasasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pellar, RudolfTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pellarová, LubaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dream when the day is thru, dream and they might come true, things never are as bad as they seem, so dream, dream, dream.
-Johnny Mercer from "Dream," popular song of the 1940s
the rare occurrence of the expected...
-William Carlos Williams, from "At Kenneth Bruke's Place," 1946
To J. G.
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The swede.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375701427, Paperback)

Philip Roth's 22nd book takes a life-long view of the American experience in this thoughtful investigation of the century's most divisive and explosive of decades, the '60s. Returning again to the voice of his literary alter ego Nathan Zuckerman, Roth is at the top of his form. His prose is carefully controlled yet always fresh and intellectually subtle as he reconstructs the halcyon days, circa World War II, of Seymour "the Swede" Levov, a high school sports hero and all-around Great Guy who wants nothing more than to live in tranquillity. But as the Swede grows older and America crazier, history sweeps his family inexorably into its grip: His own daughter, Merry, commits an unpardonable act of "protest" against the Vietnam war that ultimately severs the Swede from any hope of happiness, family, or spiritual coherence.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:32 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

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.… (more)

» see all 6 descriptions

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