I am a huge Philip Roth fan and I've read this book before, but I haven't read it in a good while. If this is your first Roth novel, you can certainly go into it cold, but having read the first few chapters again, I wanted to put in my two cents with a little bit of background info. I talk a little about what happens in the beginning of the book, but no real spoilers. I think that American Pastoral is a lot of people’s first Roth book, simply because it is regarded so highly as an American classic and by some as his best work. The most interesting thing for me in considering AP as a first Roth novel is that in it we meet a narrator that has been telling Roth's stories for a long time, but at a very different point in his life.Roth has always written fairly auto-biographically. The details change, but the essence remains. Zuckerman was a narrator Roth used (I hesitate to call him an alter-ego) in the ‘70s and ‘80s and now he is back in AP. Jerry even refers obliquely to the last Zuckerman novel before this (1986’sThe Counterlife) when he tells Zuckerman that last he’d heard Zuckerman was living with an Aristocrat in London. But Zuckerman is a very changed man here than he was before. Most of Roth’s novels up until this point were based on appetites—sexual, status, ego. And I wonder if the reason people can agree on this one is because the narrator is less driven by appetite and more so by trying to figure it all out. Because, for Zuckerman, his appetites have been removed. All of his appetites--when Jerry asks Zuckerman what he does for someone to have dinner with, Zuckerman tells him he skips dinner. After his prostate cancer and surgery, he is impotent. His impotence has also caused him to withdraw from society in order to no longer have to face the inaccessibility for him of appetite. He has to discover a new reason for living and, frankly, he’s not doing such a hot job of it. The brilliance of Roth is, of course, that you get all of this stuff without having to have read anything else. Through the way Zuckerman reminisces about the Swede and his classmates, you can almost see how he was before his surgery. It is shocking for those who knew him before, though, to see him now. Shocking for us as readers, and even his classmates who hadn’t seen him in 45 years. It’s interesting to see Roth use Zuckerman again instead of coming up with a new narrator. There has to be a reason for it, not just because he likes him best or feels closest to him. Roth is not that simple of a writer. So, as much as this is the Swede’s novel, it is also another Zuckerman story.
So okay, Paradise Remembered. WHOA. I thought it was going to be rough going transitioning back into the world of non-YA fiction. I mean, I actually did pretty well reading non-Twilight stuff back in the Twilight and New Moon days. Mostly nonfiction, political science books, but still, I was reading them. Somewhere I turned a corner, and I was mostly reading articles online, most of which were Mad Men recaps. I finished Never Let Me Go last month, but it took me like, three months. And it was nowhere near as impressively written.That's one question I had for you, Rosanne: do you think Roth's narrator is a writer so he can get away with such “writerly” writing? I say that because, I mean, some narrators aren't very intelligent. This is the case with Kath in Never Let Me Go. I mean, she's not stupid, but she's led a very sheltered life. So she can't realistically dazzle us with her narration, so Ishiguru has to do it with the wandering structure of the book instead.Allow me to roughly transition back to what I was saying about rough transitions. I have a lot of half-formed thoughts about Book One but I might have to wait for whatever else you have to say about these pages (in my edition, Book One goes to page 111).I will say right now that I greatly admire the slow transition from Nathan as the central character to Seymour. I kept wondering how he was going to pull it off—how are we going to get to the Swede's head? And I kept wondering that, and then suddenly we were just THERE. It was a cool trick. Pulling the table cloth off and leaving all of the place settings there, but by pulling very slowly instead of quickly.
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