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Next Up: American Pastoral

American Pastoral will be my first experience with a Philip Roth novel.

He’s one of the authors that I’ve always had on my to-read list, but for some reason I’ve just never got around to it.

If you’re like me and a little out of the loop on the novel, here are a few facts.

  • Published in 1997, American Pastoral won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize.
  • The novel was one of the runners up in the 2006 New York Times Book Review contest: “What Is The Greatest Work of Fiction in the Last 25 Years?”
  • As of today, the novel has never been made into a movie, though Paramount bought the film rights in 2006.
  • Like many of Roth’s other books, American Pastoral is filled with semi-autobiographical Jewish-American themes.
  • Many of Roth’s novels follow one primary character, Nathan Zuckerman.
  • Roth is 78 years old and still writing: His most recent novel, Nemisis, was released in 2010.

Richard Lacayo from Time explained the novel this way:

Good-looking, prosperous Swede, who has inherited his father’s glove factory in Newark, N.J., and married a former beauty queen, is not stupid, merely fulfilled. Is it this that gives him insufficient means to comprehend the Newark riots of 1967 or the transformation of his beloved daughter into a venomous teenage radical, a child capable of cold-blooded terrorism? Roth’s own means are more than sufficient. A writer who is unafraid to linger in the minds of furious men, he leads us fearlessly through this man’s grief, bewilderment and rage.

Philip Roth is no Harper Lee. Dude has written A LOT of novels–and not just crappy novels to fill space on your bookshelf.

He’s won more awards for his writing than I have space to list out on this blog post. We’ll just say he’s no stranger to the Pulitzer, the National Book Award, and he even won the Man Booker International Prize earlier this year.

I’ve read 30 pages of American Pastoral, and I’m already hooked. It has a similar feel to Rabbit, Run at this point–at least in the sense that the main character is a former high-school athletic star who once “had it all.”

Any insight into this novel?

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Although I understand that the whole purpose is to read the Time’s top 100, I cannot ignore my deeply held belief that Roth is one of those authors that build on what they have written earlier. I don’t mean like Updike, who writes books in a series (can you imagine reading Rabbit At Rest before reading Rabbit Run?) but rather that his entire corpus of works tends to center around Roth’s real-life neighborhoods in New Jersey and common characters tend to show up in many of the novels. Roth’s novels, even the one’s that seem at first to be quite different (like The Plot Against America), all tend to reach out to these characters and neighborhoods and themes.

    It’s an unfortunate truth that all too often we don’t recognize the value of an author until his bibliography becomes too extensive and difficult to read from the beginning, yet there are so many other authors that we latch onto their early works only to have whatever we appreciated about their writing fizzle on the way to one too many GMA interviews. Roth has had a struggle to be considered an important American writer and has generally been allocated second tier status behind writers such as Saul Bellow and John Updike, but I believe he has finally made it (however, John Irving may never succeed).

    Roth actually has a couple of threads running through his writing, and like Robert B. Parker, who wrote the Spenser, Sunny Randall, and Jesse Stone mysteries, the stories all center around a locale and the characters even slip in and out of the three streams (didn’t Agatha Christie have one where Hercule and Miss Marple crossed paths?). It is possible to read Roth out of order but it isn’t as rewarding.

    When you read the beginning of American Pastoral, Nathan Zuckerman should already be you friend and Frelinghuysen Boulevard, Weequahic Park, Raymond Boulevard and Panther Valley should be familiar stomping grounds.

    But even if your reading of American Pastoral is not ideal—not being built on many experiences with Roth’s literary Newark—it’s still an excellent book, one of the best Roth has written. I hope that you go back and read those earlier (and later) Zuckerman novels (and maybe visit some of the other offerings of this author who has always been a favorite of mine (even when the gods of literature failed to recognize his offerings).


    December 21, 2011
    • Good info, Mike. Thanks.

      You’re right…that is the downside to reading from a list like this. Hopefully, I’ll get to read his other stuff one day, though my list of stuff to read after 101 Books is probably getting longer than the Time list.


      December 21, 2011
  2. I recently read The Plot Against America by him. And i was truly written very well. That was my first experience with him and i definitely plan on reading more by him


    December 21, 2011
  3. Looking forward to your take on this one. For me, The Swede’s relationship and challenges with his daughter were pretty intense. Really hit an emotional chord with me. I guess that goes to the color of Roth’s writing…or I’m just a sucker for the father-daughter thing.


    December 21, 2011
  4. Never even heard of it. Eep. Consider me intrigued (especially with the great comments above).


    December 22, 2011

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  1. American Pastoral: A Study Of Fakeness | 101 Books

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