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Customer Review

on 23 November 2000
Roth gets better and better. This novel shines a very penetrating light on contemporary USA (well, more a powerful searchlight, really), doing it with great skill and style. All the contradictions of a society that thinks Clinton is a good guy with one or two weaknesses but you can trust him or can you? are woven into a plot that moves backwards and forwards in time and never lets you out of its grip. Living the American Dream by living a lie that he could perhaps only live in America, Coleman Silk comes badly unstuck when his dictionary definition of 'spooks' is studiedly dismissed by his employers at the university where he has worked for all his adult life; they prefer a much more dangerous definition. For this semantic confusion, Silk pays a very heavy price. Sacrificed on the altar of insane political correctness, he is sentenced to the intellectual equivalent of a modern hanging, drawing and quartering. In short, his life is destroyed. There are two other main voices in the narrative, those of Faunia and her husband, Lester. The first is one of someone almost literally beaten into submission by the blows that can fall on an underprivileged life, the second is one of someone made psychotic by his experiences in and after Vietnam. Overlooking the whole thing is Roth's regular narrator, Nathan Zuckerman, whose cool and reliable voice contrasts with the increasingly hysterical ones of everyone else. There are other notable and vividly drawn characters, especially the odious Delphine Roux, who manages to hit upon an ingenious and career-saving solution to the kind of problem that can occur when you click on the wrong icon and irretrievably send a potentially catastrophic e-mail. Even though we know relatively early on in the novel what will happen to the main characters, the element of suspense is undiminished. This represents an achievement that only a writer at the height of his powers can pull off.
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Product Details

3.7 out of 5 stars
96