Saturday, April 21, 2007

American Pastoral

American Pastoral, Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Philip Roth (I’ll call him “Phil”) is about an all-American guy who seems to have a super-charmed life (handsome legendary athlete marries Miss New Jersey, has sweet, precocious daughter, inherits and builds upon his father’s successful business, moves into beautiful stone house in idyllic setting) until the day his beloved daughter commits an outrageous act of political terrorism—blows up the local post office, killing a man, to “bring home” the war in Vietnam—an act that transports Swede Levov from his “American pastoral” into the fury and violence of its antithesis, the “American berserk.” It’s a story about the destruction of a seemingly indestructible man, the tragedy of a man who is not set up for tragedy. (See how I kind of said the same thing twice there? Phil does that a lot. I mean a LOT, and usually more than twice. That seemed like it might be a bad thing at first, but after a while I was actually quite impressed. He uses words very well. When it seems like he might be saying the same thing over and over, really he’s not, he’s building on what came before, adding meaning. He uses a lot of words to say what could, by another, lesser writer, be said in far fewer words, but Phil’s words are good words.)

Anyway. After Merry blows up the P.O., she disappears, leaving her father to figure out why it happened, where he went wrong. And that’s the rest of the book—circling around and around his life, looking at it from the outside, from every which way, talking and talking and talking it out with himself. He does his best to carry on like normal on the outside—he is the house of stone that holds everyone else together (wife, parents)—but now he’s got this wretched inner life, and it’s only his almost pathological sense of duty that prevents him falling apart. In his head he’s searching for the moment that shaped his destiny, made his daughter a murderer, believing that this tragedy must have been caused by some transgression against his own responsibility.

Basically this book is an etiology. “Etiology” is a word I learned from Phil, who likes to use big words. It's the study of the causes of disease. Swede Levov expends his life trying to determine the cause of the disease that claimed his daughter, and this becomes an allegory for whatever it is that undermines the American promises of prosperity, civic order and domestic bliss.

Maybe that sounds kind of boring or depressing, but no—this is an excellent book. It’s a compelling read that builds with surprising momentum, even though we know what happens from the start. It’s a long book, and Phil’s sentences and paragraphs sometimes go on and on, but the ones that do are often the most affecting—the guy can turn a very sharp phrase. In the end, it’s not his impressive ability to put words together that stays with the reader—it’s their emotional impact, the intense sense of loss and futility, anguish and rage, the desperation of this character’s attempt to hold himself together—Phil makes you feel that, and powerfully, right through the drawn-out-for-40-pages ending.

So many words make up this book, but they are good words.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Cold Mountain, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and Who Will Run the Frog Hospital

Lisa's been bugging me, but I figured I'd finish Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close first, then do a 3 in 1 :D.

So Who Will Run the Frog Hospital was first. It's a short novel about a woman's teenage years. Her best friend gets pregnant and has an abortion and it's just about their hardships I guess. To be truthful it was a little bit confusing, so somebody read it and then they can do an amazing blog on it!

Next, Cold Mountain! It was sooo good! And I really cried, like HARD, the last like 5 pages. I loved it soo much! Definately Top 5 material. And I'm pretty sure there's another blog already on it, so I don't need to talk about it!

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was amazing! It's about a boy named Oskar who finds a mysterious key after his father's death on September 11th. So he's searching for the lock. He has "heavy boots" a lot but the people he meets searching for the key help him through it. It's really great...I think it's on Cris's top ten??
Anyway, Love ya'll! :D