I wonder if anyone would object if I called Philip Roth’s American Pastoral something of an Everyman novel. It is a book that almost any book lover can read and enjoy. It is a story that most of us can identify with: the tragedy that befell the Levov family, the horror that happened and the baffling lack of an identifiable cause. Seymour “The Swede” Levov can almost be heard saying, “But I didn’t do anything.”
We may not have had a daughter go publicly over the edge and bring horror and shame to the family. But we can each feel the real possibility of devastating things happening to us despite our lack of exceptionalism. We were just living out a normal American life and things hit the fan.
Our group could also call it an Everyman Novel because throughout the entire Athenaeum conversation, not a single complaint or criticism was raised until the closing remarks in which I first said, and John echoed, that Roth “can talk.” You get the feeling that he could just go on talking about the glove factory, or Newark’s socio-economic troubles, or Merry’s mental state, or Swede’s athletic prowess, or Dawn’s attitude about becoming Miss New Jersey, forever.
Nevertheless, Roth’s Pulitzer-winning novel had the power to keep the reader completely engaged even with subject matter that is fairly ordinary. We all liked the immediate family, as well as Swede’s father Lou, most of their friends, and even daughter Merry herself. Even Rita Cohen was an exquisite villain.
Structured in 3 sections – Paradise Remembered, The Fall, and Paradise Lost – we see the wistful tragedy that resulted in, not the demise of the family, or even in anyone’s untimely death, but simply the wreckage, the despair, the bewilderment that an unexplained horror brings, accompanied by shame, self-doubt, humiliation, loss of all self-confidence and ultimately divorce.
And from the For What It’s Worth department, a film version of the book begins filming in March and will star Ewan MacGregor.
And a Jacq’s lovely in abstentia essay can be found in the left column.
This month we had our annual book exchange and a photo of the evening you can see here.
The book for January is Don Delillo’s White Noise, and after great perseverance, Noah’s steadfast proposal got the vote for February: The Disposessed by Ursula K. Leguin.
We also settled on a design and color scheme for the next commemorative t-shirt: gray shirt with black text.