I'll have you know I broke a personal vow for this one. While I loved American Pastoral and, um, had tremendous respect and appreciation for Sabbath's Theater (translation: the main character was disgusting, but the book so compelling and alive that I couldn't help turning page after page and finding it brilliant), the last few of Philip Roth's books I've read -- The Human Stain, Exit Ghost, The Dying Animal -- have seemed so repetitious, and I'm not a fan of the hackneyed old older-man-rediscovers-passion-with-beautiful-young-thing story line to begin with, that I promised myself I was done with Roth for a while.
Well, then came Indignation (Houghton Mifflin, 2008). The narrator's in his early 20s, so I knew from that alone that Roth would have had to find a new subject to write about. He did, and while Indignation is no American Pastoral, I was favorably impressed. The protagonist, Marcus Messner, is the 19 year old son of a Kosher butcher in Newark in the early 1950s. After learning the business inside-out from his father, and graduating at the top of his high school class, he enrolls at the tiny local Robert Treat College, and is utterly in his element, among working-class strivers of all ethnic stripes, and studying under fiery, radical professors from across the river in NYC. Unfortunately, his father becomes increasingly obsessed with the possibility that some grevious harm will come to Marcus, and that a single false step or careless choice will be his downfall. Nathan's need to monitor and question Marcus' every move leads the latter to transfer to the conservative, ultra-traditional Winesburg College in Ohio ... where his determination to maintain straight As and avoid being drafted and sent to Korea buts up against roommates from hell, a maddening chapel requirement, an overly solicitous Jewish fraternity leader and BMOC, and a beautiful, insatiable young rich girl with a dark secret of her own.
The book's deceptively short, but a good read nonetheless, alternately funny and excruciating. The ending packs a wallop along the lines of Chris Bohjalian's The Double Bind; honestly, I gasped when I read it. A fascinating if sobering coming-of-age novel, which drives home the notion that simple, seemingly inconsequential decisions can have grave repercussions.
- Ithaca, New York
- MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.