American Pastoral: Philip Roth

Not exactly starting off the new year with a cheerful one!

I initially decided to read this book after having seen adverts for the film. Ewan McGregor is great in pretty much anything he’s ever been in and has played some iconic characters so I assumed this must have been special for him to make his directorial debut. I have also studied the Vietnam War many times in my academic history career and it has always fascinated me, inspiring my trip to South East Asia last year. The idea of public response to events occurring thousands of miles away, the role of media in this, and their (sometimes violent) reaction are all essential parts to understanding the war – with a vast amount of American culture having been shaped by it.

American Pastoral begins with an introduction to the ‘author’, an old schoolmate of Seymour ‘the Swede’ Levov’s, whose whole idea of the man is based upon his all-American image and simplicity. On learning the truth of the Swede’s past he chooses to tell his story, how he imagines it to be. Thus we have the motivation for this slice of ‘American history’.

The Swede’s daughter, Merry, blows up a post office. With that post office, the whole of his and his wife Dawn’s perfect American dream is shattered. The story follows the Swede’s internal monologue as he attempts to pick up the pieces and recover what little he can of himself, if only to reconcile himself with a daughter known as the Rimrock Bomber.

Although little actually happens in this book apart from the passage of time and the mundane that must occur in the aftermath of such an event, the writing perfectly encapsulates juddering reality of the Swede, as a man who has done his best to coast through a life based on dreams he thought he had achieved. The narrative is powerfully raw and yet fluid, as his control upon his life continues to slip. There is no happy ending for the Swede, something I personally found dissatisfying yet worked – the book just ends, it does not reach an ending point. This, I feel, is more realistic, as in life there is no perfect cut off point, only death.

If you are in the mood for a profound search of a man’s psyche, I recommend this for you.

 

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