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of some of the material, Dickens' Fur Coat and Charlotte's Unanswered Letters is an entertaining read for anyone interested in the book world of Victorian England. (AW) American Pastoral by Philip Roth Houghton Mifflin, 1997, 423 pp., $26 The prolific Roth shows that there is no such thing as a charmed life in this spectacular novel. "Swede" Levov, a blue-eyed, golden haired Jew and the greatest athlete in the history of Newark's Weequahic High, seems at first to have it aU. Like a movie idol, he is adored by men and women, young and old. On the court or field, his magical name inspires a personalized cheer: "Swede Levov! It rhymes with The Love." But when former childhood admirer Nathan Zuckerman (Roth's alter ego in several of his novels), is contacted by the Swede fifty years later for professional advice on writing a tribute for his deceased father, Zuckerman discovers that Levov's life is falling apart. The Swede's specialty women's glove company, Newark Maid, is in trouble; his marriage to "an up-and-coming Irish looker," Miss New Jersey 1949, Mary Dawn Dwyer, has ended in divorce ; and he battles prostate cancer, an illness Zuckerman himself is fighting. Sometime later, when he sees Jerry, the Swede's less adulated heart-surgeon brother, at their forty-fifth high school reunion, Zuckerman learns that the legendary Swede has died, and that his adulthood was "plagued with shame and uncertainty and pain" thanks to his revolutionary daughter, Merry, the "Rimrock Bomber" who blew up a post office, killing the local doctor, during the Vietnam War. Beautiful, stuttering Merry's transformation from a bright, inquisitive , though slightly high-strung, child into a terrorist is horrifying and at the same time enthraUing. One of Roth's greatest accomplishments is his depiction of parental anguish. At the novel's most heartbreaking moment, after years of searching, the Swede finds Merry, a broken woman living in a squalid rented room. As a converted Jain—a member of a small Indian religious sect that preaches nonviolence—she is unable now, after killing four people , to wash or eat for fear of destroying microorganisms. Blinded until now by his own perfection and hampered by his inability to probe beneath mere surfaces, the Swede finally learns through Merry's catastrophe to "penetrate to the interiors of people" and discovers that they are never who one imagines. Like all masterpieces, American Pastoral goes beyond the characters ' personal histories: The Swede's story parallels America's postwar rise and then sudden fall during the turbulent 1960s. The Levovs' troubled father-daughter relationship mirrors the struggle between the peace and tranquillity of "the longed-for American pastoral " and "the fury, the violence and the desperation of the counterpastoral ." In this novel, Roth presents an intelligent, realistic critique of late twentieth-century America. (KS) The Missouri Review · 227 ...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
p. 217
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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