Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Reading Rainbow: Indignation by Philip Roth

Prior to furtively reading this*, the only other Philip Roth I had read was American Pastoral, which I wrote about here. While the scope was certainly broader in the case of American Pastoral, it was a much more laborious read than Indignation.

*I was in the midst of books for the aforementioned book club (spoken of here) and have still yet to finish the first book that was selected, Midnight's Children, but breezed through this in between reading Slaughterhouse-Five and The Fall.

Clearly Indignation does not have the pedigree that American Pastoral did--one of them won the Pulitzer, the other did not--but the reading experience was quite a bit more refreshing*. For starters, the first-person point-of-view narration from the standpoint of Roth's protagonist, Marcus Messner, forces the reader to begin to empathize with the character. As Marcus's father becomes increasingly overbearing and paranoid, we project ourselves into that situation. When he leaves Newark for the fictional setting of Sherwood Anderson's arguable "Great American Novel" Winesburg, Ohio, Marcus begins to become increasingly paranoid and finds trouble balancing the rigors of dedicated studying with a personal life that is growing more and more complicated as Olivia Hutton walks into his life.

*A sentiment that was likely driven just as much by the fact that I was laboring through Midnight's Children at the time.

Now, there is a bizarre turn at about page 75 that I'm not going to get into so as to preserve the surprise, but needless to say this was a turn that caught me so off-guard that I had to put the book down for a couple of minutes just to gather myself. That's all I'll say to this matter.

Now, being set in the 1950s and Marcus being of college age, the ongoing Korean War and the prospect of being drafted if Marcus doesn't remain in college is looming over his head like the Sword of Damocles. It is with so much riding on Marcus's success that his principle-driven self-destructive tendencies and inflexibility put him at risk.

The effortlessness with which Roth tells this story comes through in the ease with which one reads it. Unlike American Pastoral, which was very good to be sure, Indignation actually left me looking forward to opening up the next Roth novel I happen across (probably The Plot Against America).

But don't take my word for it...

1 comment:

KRD said...

Just finished listening (yes, listening--I have a wicked long commute) to The Plot Against America and I really, really enjoyed it. (It didn't hurt that the book was read by Ron Silver--may he rest in peace.) Roth is an interesting writer--I feel like he's done a bunch of different stuff, which I think separates him from a lot of the white, male, American writers of his generation.

It seems like you and I have read totally different Roth novels--but I want to read this one. Winesburg is one of my top 10 favorite books of all time--horribly under-read and under-appreciated, in my opinion.

Thank you for writing about what you read--I really enjoy these posts.

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