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Roy Martin had been concerned with his wife's health and the health of the baby when Mrs. Martin found herself pregnant with their only child, Lee, at forty-five. The accident, less than two years later, compounded his worry. How would he provide? The elder Martin retreated into years of sullenness, punctuated by fits of rage, often directed at young Lee. After the accident, doctors in St. Louis equipped Martin's father with metal hooks fastened to the stumps at the ends of his arms. Martin the writer makes the hooks a powerful symbol of his father's rage (in one riveting scene his father shoves the pincers of a hook into the crotch of the school principal who fired Martin 's mother, a teacher) as well as of the struggle the man had to connect to those he loved ("It was impossible for me to snuggle in close to him because of his hooks"). Martin recounts with awful clarity the sound the hooks made when his father, preparing to whip the boy, pulled the belt from his trousers. In one frightening passage he describes the night his father actually pressed the open pincers to teenaged Lee's throat. Alongside his depiction of the elder Martin's temper, Lee's recollection of his own guilt and regret, his wish to forgive and be forgiven, serves as a kind of counterpoint to this rage. "I think I must surely deserve those whippings," Martin writes, "because I'm a terrible child, too irritable, too stubborn, too full of sass." Though the fights between the boy and his father are harrowing, young Martin seemed determined always to engage his father during these angry outbursts. The actual issues between them were trivial, even to Martin's mind: the length of Lee's hair, Lee's inability to complete a chore to his father's satisfaction, what the author calls "typical teenage rebellions of cigarettes, alcohol, late nights." In one insightful narrative intrusion, Martin admits that tempers flared often simply because it was "easier to fight with my father than to tell him the truth." It fell to Martin's mother, Beulah, a quiet but formidable force, to act as a go-between, the peacekeeper in her home. Fired as the teacher in the oneroom school in Lee's rural hometown because—ironically—she was too meek to keep order, she took a teaching job in suburban Chicago to give the troubled family a new start. Mostly she prayed for grace and gently coaxed the Martin men to join her at the local Church of Christ, where, in the end, they all seemed to find it. (RC) The Human Stain by Philip Roth Houghton Mifflin, 2000, 361 pp., $26 Since his introduction in The Ghost Writer in 1979, Nathan Zuckerman, Philip Roth's novelist alter ego, has had the fortune of encountering seemingly ordinary, middle-class people entangled in tragic, painful events, suggesting that if other writers were as patient and watchful, the memorable stories would come to them. In The Human Stain, Roth's twentyfourth book, Zuckerman's experience is no different. Aged, his prostate removed due to cancer, he moves to a small New England town in search of solitude and an escape from social The Missouri Review · 181 and sexual entanglements. His selfimposed isolation is short-lived. It's the summer of 1998. The president of the United States is embroiled in the Monica scandal, and sex is on everyone 's mind. Coleman Silk, a former dean of faculty and professor of Latin and Greek at Athena College, searching out the new writer in town, knocks on Zuckerman's front door, insisting that he write Silk's story. The seventyone -year-old man admits to an affair with the much younger Faunia Farley, an illiterate part-time farmhand and janitor at the school where he used to teach. Silk explains that he resigned from his beloved job two years earlier under the pressure of unfounded charges of racism. The event was absurd, Silk explains. After the semester-long absence of two students, he benignly asked the class, "Do they exist or are they spooks?" Unbeknownst to him, the missing students were...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 181-182
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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