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Book Reviews Book Reviews 137 American Pastoral, by Philip Roth. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. 423 pp. $26.00. Philip Roth continues to astonish us. His originality and creativity seem boundless, as much ofhis recent work attests, including American Pastoral, his most powerful novel to date. If there was ever any question that he ranks with Saul Bellow as among American's most distinguished writers, all doubts now cease. American Pastoral astonishes in ways quite different from the flamboyance of Portnoy's Complaint, the post-modernismofThe Counterlife, the audacity ofOperation Shylock, or the outraging, death-drenched Sabbath's Theater, which immediately preceded it and gave no clue at all to what was coming next (as Operation Shylock hardly anticipated Sabbath's Theater). American Pastoral is different from all ofthese books, as from such lesser works as Our Gang or The Great American Novel, not only in its remarkable quasi-Faulknerian style but also and most particularly in the depths that Roth plumbs. Never before quite so deeply and thoughtfully, in this novel Roth bares the Jewish (and non-Jewish) middle-class American soul as it has evolved in the second half of this century as no one has done before-including John Updike, with whose Rabbit novels Roth's Pastoral has been compared. What Roth uncovers is enough to make even the strongest among us shudder and, with Seymour Levov, Roth's protagonist, exclaim, "What have I done?" The narrative structure ofthe novel is not very complicated, although it is not until the second half that all the pieces fit together'for an overwhelming effect. Once again, Roth resorts to his surrogate, Nathan Zuckerman, to tell the story, though let no one be deceived: this is pure Roth, and vintage Roth, too. At his forty-fifth Weequahic High School reunion in Newark, NJ-the year is 1995-Nathan runs into a classmate, Jerry, younger brother of Seymour "The Swede" Levov, himself a successful, brash cardiac surgeon now living in Miami. Jerry turns up only because he is on his way back from his brother's funeral-a fact that surprises Zuckerman, who had recently been in touch with the Swede, a legend in his own time (as the saying goes) for all those who attended Weequahic in the years after World War II. Nicknamed "the Swede" because ofhis fair good looks, blue eyes, and height, he was everything Jerry is not: a modest, selfeffacing , three-letter varsity athlete, outstanding U.S. marine, and college graduate who fell in love with and married his classmate-Mary Dawn Dwyer, Miss New Jersey of 1949-he was also a loyal son and devoted husband and father. In short, the Swede was 138 SHOFAR Fall 1999 Vol. 18, No.1 the embodiment in almost every respect of the all-American male, for whom one success seemed to lead only to another. After taking over his father's flourishing glove-making business, the Swede settled his wife and young daughter, Meredith, in a 150-year-old farmhouse in rural Old Rimrock, Morris County, NJ, a beautiful idyllic setting where he had longed to live ever since childhood. There he helps his wife successfully begin raising cattle while he continues to work in central Newark, even as other glovemakers and manufacturers begin to flee the city and the country for more profitable and safer venues elsewhere. The only cloud overshadowing his and his wife's early bliss seems to be their daughter Merry's terrible stutter, the cause of which is unknown and the cure almost entirely elusive, despite the best efforts of Sheila Salzman, Merry's speech therapist. Whatever it is that underlies Merry's stutteralso apparently motivates her rebellious teenage behavior that culminates early one moming in the bombing of the village general store and post office and the accidental deatJ). of a much loved local physician. The year is 1968, and Merry becomes a fugitive, going underground for five years. During this period she becomes responsible for more bombings and the deaths ofthree more persons, as she tells her shocked and disconsolate father when he finally finds her once again in New Jersey. By now she has become a Jain, wearing a stocking veil...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5165
Print ISSN
0882-8539
Pages
pp. 137-139
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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