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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars American obsessional, 29 Feb 2008
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This review is from: American Pastoral (Paperback)
American Pastoral is the first of a trilogy so loosely connected that even the publisher draws no attention to it. It wasn't until I had read the third volume - The Human Stain - that I realised I had come in at the end, and went back to the beginning with this book (the second volume is I Married A communist).

But reading The Human Stain first does throw American Pastoral into relief. The writing in American Pastoral is as magnificent, but the combination of plot and polemic far less satisfying. Whereas The Human Stain races along in a taut tension between the uncovering of secrets and the unmasking of humanity, American Pastoral is an obsessional, almost pathologically forensic, dissection of the American Way, with the plot acting only as a frustratingly episodic driver.

On the face of it this is a tale of how a man who is the perfect embodiment of the American Dream is blighted by the sheer simplicity of his perfection. He is undone by deviancy right on his doorstep. It's a deviancy he is powerless to prevent because it comes from the person to whom he is most devoted: his daughter.

It's a brilliant premise - so brilliant you long for more of the book to focus directly on it. Yet much of what you get instead is gloves. Yes, gloves. Your knowledge of the glovemaking process will be mightily improved by this book. And though it works as a device for a while, it comes eventually to feel as if you are being beaten to death by metaphor.

And that is true of many of the other meticulous digressions too. Roth scratches at the itch of Americana with a relentlessness that borders on autism. Since he is such a brilliant writer this mania is not without its insights - and humour. But it makes for a tough read. And when you finally reach the shocking drama of the final pages you are left feeling robbed of the more direct - but perhaps no less effective - narrative that might have been.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 25 Jan 2009 22:16:39 GMT
GeeJayBee says:
"American Pastoral is an obsessional, almost pathologically forensic, dissection of the American Way,"

It is nothing of the sort. Its a pretentious mish-mash of re-hashed history from the perspective of the upper middle-classes. The premise is preposterous and that anyone could be shocked at spoilt rich capitalists child becomes radicalised and commits violent crime is a joke.

In reply to an earlier post on 1 Feb 2012 14:22:40 GMT
who was shocked, other than Swede? which is what the book is about: the dissolution of the american dream in a person who had so much faith in it?

It's would be rediculous for zuckerman (or Roth) to write the story in another way: this is Swede's frame of mind. the fact that you think that your two cents worth should change the main characters sense of reality in a book is preposterous.
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