terça-feira, 28 de abril de 2009

AMERICAN PASTORAL, by Philip Roth


American Pastoral
Author: Philip Roth (1997)

To decipher the late 1960's through the story of Swede Levov, whose life is cast into the fires of those years, Roth calls again upon the saturnine side of his disposition. It answers to the purpose as never before. Good-looking, prosperous Swede, who has inherited his father's glove factory in Newark, N.J., and married a former beauty queen, is not stupid, merely fulfilled. Is it this that gives him insufficient means to comprehend the Newark riots of 1967 or the transformation of his beloved daughter into a venomous teenage radical, a child capable of cold-blooded terrorism? Roth's own means are more than sufficient. A writer who is unafraid to linger in the minds of furious men, he leads us fearlessly through this man's grief, bewilderment and rage.—R.L.

From the TIME Archive:
You will search the shelf of contemporary fiction long and hard to find a parental nightmare projected with the emotional force and verbal energy that Roth brings

WHEN SHE WAS BAD
Monday, Apr. 28, 1997 By R.Z. SHEPPARD
This spring an unusual and virtually simultaneous blooming of senior novelists is taking place. Norman Mailer (see following review), Saul Bellow, the mysterious Thomas Pynchon and a seemingly perennial Philip Roth all have new works scheduled for publication. American Pastoral (Houghton Mifflin; 423 pages; $26) is Roth's fourth offering in fewer than seven years, making the 64-year-old a sort of Cal Ripkin of American letters.
Roth's three previous books--Patrimony, Operation Shylock and Sabbath's Theater--won leading literary prizes, which is no small achievement in the contentious world of book awards. American Pastoral could make Roth's record four for four.
The novel is a scorcher about prosperous New Jersey parents whose picture-perfect life is destroyed when their daughter becomes a terrorist. This cultural horror story is deepened by Roth's genius for blending humor, pathos, sympathy and rage. The effect is visceral, a queasy feeling that the bottom has fallen out of civilization, and despite our faith in reason, irrationality rules. "He had learned the worst lesson that life can teach--that it makes no sense," Roth writes about his paragon of decency and convention, Seymour ("Swede") Levov, star athlete of Weequahic High in Newark, New Jersey, during the early 1940s.
Roth has frequently celebrated his once predominantly Jewish alma mater as something like a yeshiva of assimilation. Swede, so called for his tall, blond, blue-eyed good looks, is built for a speedy launch into the American mainstream. His luck seems endless. He joins the Marines as World War II is ending; he returns from service to prepare to take over Newark Maid, his father's successful glove factory; and he marries the former Mary Dawn Dwyer, Miss New Jersey of 1949.
A golden couple in a golden time, the Levovs rise effortlessly on an unbreaking wave of postwar prosperity. They move to a 160-year-old stone house in one of the Garden State's classiest exurbs. There Mary Dawn breeds prize cattle on a 17-acre homestead and rears daughter Meredith, a bright, bubbly child the Levovs call Merry.
Grumpy might have been safer. Old Country Jews believed that acknowledging good fortune would attract an evil eye, a kineahora. Roth brings this useful superstition home when, as a teenager, the Merry Levov contracts a lethal case of '60s political self-righteousness. She blows up the town's general store-post office, killing a passerby, and then vanishes.
You will search the shelf of contemporary fiction long and hard to find a parental nightmare projected with the emotional force and verbal energy that Roth brings to American Pastoral. Every time she passes a young woman, Mary Dawn hopes it is her daughter. Hope, in fact, is no help. It only inflames the pain every day. Eventually the mother starts to habituate expensive psychiatric clinics. The ideal marriage dissolves, and long before he sickens with terminal prostate cancer, Swede begins to die of heartbreak.
Despite generous reprieves of humor, dialogue that leaps directly from page to ear and a richly textured narrative about the lost world of the '40s and '50s, Roth never lets up on his Jersey Job. When, after five years, Swede tracks down his daughter, she is living as Mary Stoltz in a squalid room in crumbling downtown Newark. She is worse than dead: an unwashed, half-starved, self-styled member of the Jain religion who prattles about the murderous effect soap and water have on germs at the same time that she confesses having blown up three more people in Oregon.
This moral lunacy is dramatized with the piercing common sense that characterizes both Roth's funniest and soberest works. "The world is not a place on which I have influence or wish to have any," says Merry through a veil, a safety net for microbes. Swede's reply cries out to distraught parents everywhere: "You are influencing me! You who will not kill a mite are killing me...your powerlessness is power over me, goddamn it!"
The stakes have definitely increased since Alexander Portnoy's mother had a conniption 50 years ago about her son's eating food that wasn't kosher. Never before has Roth written fiction with such clear conviction. Never before has he assembled so many fully formed characters or shuttled so authoritatively through time. One barely notices that the narrator is Nathan Zuckerman, the Newark-born writer who is Roth's frenzied alter id in the Ghost Writer trilogy. Significantly, the one character who most resembles Roth is a quiet master leather cutter, 40 years at Newark Maid, who lets his scissors do the talking. American Pastoral, too, fits like a glove.
http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,986262-2,00.html
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