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Customer Review

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars should have been tragic and great - but somehow isn't, 19 Oct. 2011
This review is from: American Pastoral (Paperback)
I've read all of Philip Roth's earlier work with some pleasure (though Letting Go is quite hard going; and the Great American Novel is clearly not for all). I know this won the Pulitzer Prize. But I found it very hard going.

I think this has to do with the tone. The material should be tragic. The tone is that of a Philip Roth novel, though. And the overtones that make this about America don't quite hack it, for me, in consequence.

The material should be tragic: the story of Seymour Levov, great athlete, great businessman, great husband and family man, and great American. But with a domestic tragedy: his daughter becomes obsessed with the Vietnam War and plants a bomb in his home town, killing someone.

The tone is that of a Philip Roth novel: confrontations between the apparently mad and the sane (Levov and his daughter and the mysterious Rita Cohen); between the passionate and the rational (Levov and his father); nostalgia for times past (the opening section of the novel in which the narrator Zuckerman, attends a class reunion - very well done, and has dinner with Levov shortly before Levov's death. This is the same kind of material and the same kind of tone that elsewhere is Roth can be comic (Portnoy's Complaint) or deadly serious (My Life As A Man) or a brilliant mix of the above (the Zuckerman trilogy). Here it just isn't tragic - perhaps because we see no inevitability in the take on life of Levov's daughter - part of Levov's problem is that he doesn't know if this is something he's caused in some way, or if his daughter has just gone mad. Another part of the problem of the tone of the book is that Levov in truth also doesn't know what he thinks: should his duty be to bring in his criminal daughter (he doesn't think so), should he intervene in her life (he doesn't think so), should others intervene in her life (he gets cross when they do - after all it's his place)...and so on.

As to this: 'it's about American Pastoral and the american dream': yes it is, but the story lacks wider resonance and significance because it's more like a domestic tragedy than an American tragedy - the daughter's anti-American feeling is clear enough. BUT not why it takes the form of extremist violence...

So: much to think about; but not, for once, a recommendable read.
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