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American Pastoral (1997)

by Philip Roth

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The American Trilogy (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
7,429165989 (3.92)238
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.
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» See also 238 mentions

English (144)  Italian (7)  Spanish (5)  French (4)  Dutch (3)  Catalan (2)  All languages (165)
Showing 1-5 of 144 (next | show all)
So, a Pulitzer prize winning author, eh? This book was about Samuel Lavov, a blonde Jewish all-star athlete in a New Jersey high school. This is about the fall of the smug Lavov. Roth could have written this book in 50 pages instead of the 400+ page slog that it is. I don't really care what type of baseball shoes Sam had when he was 11 years old. I also really don't care what the piece of a glove that connects the thumb to the rest of the glove is called--but the author did--4 pages worth. After reading this, I will run screaming back into the arms of Dickens or Melville! I certainly will be reading nothing else from Roth! ( )
  Tess_W | Aug 21, 2021 |
Swede seems to have it all. A three-letter athlete in high school; though Jewish, becomes a Marine drill instructor in the closing days of World War 2. Marries Miss Jersey over the opposition of his father, who objects to his marrying a Catholic. Takes over his father’s thriving glove factory and continues its success. He seems emblematic of the American dream. This book is about how that dream is shattered, not only for Swede but the country. It is no surprise that the title is ironic.
I began reading this the morning after the presidential election, hoping that this account of the last time the U.S was so divided, a half-century ago, would if not comfort me, at least provide some context, some hope that my country would survive this, too. I had heard that this was Roth’s masterpiece, so picked it up with the expectation of enjoying it, but found that at times the narrative failed to hold my attention.
There is excellent writing here, virtuoso passages or the apt selection of a single word. But often I felt I was reading a purposefully important book by a self-consciously brilliant writer.
I was inclined to attribute this ambivalent reaction to my own post-election mood, but a quick scan of the 30 or so Goodreaders who’ve already posted show me that I wasn’t alone. Still, I give it three stars; a good read. Not, as I had hoped, a great one. ( )
  HenrySt123 | Jul 19, 2021 |
Read this in two sittings. Great novel, hard to make sense of, since Roth seems to be getting comfortable with the idea that no human mind is fully reconcilable with your perception of the person, a notion that leads to thousands of well-articulated feelings and a consuming sense of momentum but not, in the end, anything like a succinct thesis or even a series of bullet points. One to stew over, and pull off the shelf many times again, I think. ( )
  brendanowicz | May 9, 2021 |
I have made a commitment to myself that I would write a least a few lines about every book I read this year, and I am kicking myself that I did not write this one before the discussion on American Pastoral started on the Constant Reader group.

Well, I didn’t like it. But the discussion has been so good, and brought up so many nuances that I had previously missed, I am regarding this book better than the 2 stars I had given it. Yet, 2 stars it is, because as interesting as the points made about it, I simply have to say I didn’t really liked.

Roth seemed to play with the reader with a combo of meta-fiction and an unreliable narrator; two writing devices that I appreciate as clever and elegant. And he does a tremendous job at that. But I cannot get over the fact that the characters seem like stereotypes; too bland and perfect in their roles, to the point that they become unconvincing. Are the characters stereotypes or archetypes? I have wondered this question for a while, and realized that even if rationally I agree with the argument that portraits them as archetypes, they remain in my mind as poorly realized characters.

Gosh, I really wanted to have liked it! This is probably the best criticism I have read on the shattering of the American Dream in the 1960’s. I wrote in my post at the discussion, and I copy it here because I still feel it describes well this novel:

Yes, it is the history of the American dream – from rags to riches in 3 generations, of course – and the shattering of that dream with the rebel daughter, Vietnam War, multiple divorces, face lifts, alcoholism, the migration of jobs offshore, marital affairs, prostate cancer…

I also wrote:

I wonder that it just felt too distant from me because of my age and non-American background. At 44, I missed the baby-boomer generation by just one year. I am not trying to discriminate based on age here, but it does seem to me that this book would be more appealing to those that have lived through it.

And that is all…
( )
  RosanaDR | Apr 15, 2021 |
The vast majority of this book consists of the Swede’s reminiscing, questioning how he and his wife begat a murderer and how his life came to be so convoluted and tragic. The book moves slowly but methodically, never rambling; even the dragging parts contribute meaningfully to the plotline. Rarely had the Swede needed to question, dwell upon, or reminisce painfully, and so the self-doubt that plagues him during the time of his life that the book describes attacks with passion. His marriage to a precocious Irish-Catholic – frowned upon by his staunchly Jewish father – hadn’t just begun beautifully; it had also developed into an even more loving relationship than when they’d first gotten together. His ownership of a glove factory in downtown Newark had faced admirably the riots in the 1960s and the upheaval of manufacture to southeast Asia (as well as the decreasing popularity of gloves as a must-have fashion item). His relationship with his fierce, passionate father had never faltered in the way his brother’s relationship with their father had. And his own years of fatherhood, his years of helping rear a smart, passionate girl with a stutter, had never led him to anticipate her rage, her extreme actions, her disappearance. Nothing in his life up to this point – except for perhaps its perfection in itself – had given him cause to foresee the tragedy that now faced him each and every morning. Indeed, because of that perfection itself, because nothing had ever shaken him to the core, because nothing had ever cracked his self-confidence, the clouds of doubt spill open, raining questions and pain on his ill-prepared mind. His coping mechanism seems to be merely reminiscing; Roth only brings the Swede to desperation as the novel closes. Readers, however, may have less patience, less endurance. According to American ideas or natural law or something, no father or husband should ever have to answer – and least of all a father and a husband of such upstanding character, of such simple goldenness as the Swede himself. If all that the Swede has can be suddenly taken away, what value were all those good decisions and personal sacrifices. Roth’s character development – perhaps through his wordiness – fleshes out each person – not just the Swede – in the story with impressive depth. He creates a thought-life for not only the protagonist (or protagonists, both Skip in the beginning and the Swede throughout), but also for his daughter, his wife, and his mistress. (Perhaps also for his father and his neighbor – with whom his wife is having an affair – though as a female, I didn’t find those as relatable.) As the reader witnesses first-hand the Swede’s thoughtful downfall, the selfless Swede dwells upon how others have reacted to the recent events, considers their backgrounds and their paths to this moment. Again, Roth never brings him to desperation, to comparing his background and his life journey to the people around him. Roth gives us the story of a man who has never had to be desperate, and when the time comes, doesn’t even quite know how to be desperate, doesn’t quite know how to face the situation, doesn’t know how to cope. Again, Roth leaves the reader with questions; if the Swede’s perfect character, perfect simplicity hasn’t served him well in the moment when he most needed internal strength, what’s the benefit of it all anyway? ( )
  revatait | Feb 21, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 144 (next | show all)
Bewundernswert ist die Detailversessenheit und die akribische Genauigkeit, mit der Roth sein Pastiche malt. Sie macht die Besessenheit des Erzählers, mit der er die faszinierende Gestalt des Schweden umkreist, eindrucksvoll und wahrhaftig. Eine Frage aber bleibt: Wieviel amerikanische Idyllenmalerei, auch wenn sie im Dienste der Demontage eben dieser Idylle steht, erträgt der nicht-amerikanische Leser? Stellenweise geht Roth zu weit - er geht zu sehr ins Detail. Wenn er sowohl Vater als auch Sohn Levov in ihrer Begeisterung für das Handschuhgewerbe beschreibt, läßt er auch uns bis in die unbedeutendsten Einzelheiten an diesem Gewerbe, seiner Geschichte und seinen Fachbegriffen teilhaben. Und von welchem anderen Roman kann man schon lernen, was ein "Schichtel" ist?
 

» Add other authors (12 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Philip Rothprimary authorall editionscalculated
Drazdauskienė, Rasasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mantovani, VincenzoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pellar, RudolfTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pellarová, LubaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Silver, RonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
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
Dedication
To J. G.
First words
The swede.
Quotations
What he saw, in a scarecrow's clothes, stick-skinny as a scarecrow, was the scantiest farmyard emblem of life, a travestied mock-up of a human being, so meager a likeness to a Levov it could have fooled only a bird.
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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.

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