Summary and book reviews of American Pastoral by Philip Roth

American Pastoral

by Philip Roth

American Pastoral
  • Critics' Opinion:

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  • First Published:
    Jun 1997, 423 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 1998, 423 pages

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Book Summary

A magnificent meditation on a pivotal decade in our nation's history, is in every way different from the profane and sclerotic antihero of Sabbath's Theater.

As the American century draws to an uneasy close, Philip Roth gives us a novel of unqualified greatness that is an elegy for all our century's promises of prosperity, civic order, and domestic bliss. Roth's protagonist is Swede Levov, a legendary athlete at his Newark high school, who grows up in the booming postwar years to marry a former Miss New Jersey, inherit his father's glove factory, and move into a stone house in the idyllic hamlet of Old Rimrock. And then one day in 1968, Swede's beautiful American luck deserts him.

For Swede's adored daughter, Merry, has grown from a loving, quick-witted girl into a sullen, fanatical teenager—a teenager capable of an outlandishly savage act of political terrorism. And overnight Swede is wrenched out of the American pastoral and into the indigenous American berserk. Compulsively readable, propelled by sorrow, rage, and a deep compassion for its characters, this is Roth's masterpiece.

Winner - Pulitzer Prize.

1

The Swede. During the war years, when I was still a grade school boy, this was a magical name in our Newark neighborhood, even to adults just a generation removed from the city's old Prince Street ghetto and not yet so flawlessly Americanized as to be bowled over by the prowess of a high school athlete. The name was magical; so was the anomalous face. Of the few fair-complexioned Jewish students in our preponderantly Jewish public high school, none possessed anything remotely like the steep-jawed, insentient Viking mask of this blue-eyed blond born into our tribe as Seymour Irving Levov.

The Swede starred as end in football, center in basketball, and first baseman in baseball. Only the basketball team was ever any good - twice winning the city championship while he was its leading scorer - but as long as the Swede excelled, the fate of our sports teams didn't matter much to a student body whose elders, largely undereducated and overburdened, venerated academic ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
The questions and discussion topics that follow are intended to enhance your group's reading of Philip Roth's American Pastoral. We hope they will open up new approaches to this explosive and viscerally moving novel by one of the most esteemed American writers of the twentieth century.


About This Book

Seymour "Swede" Levov comes of age just after World War II, in a thriving and triumphant America. A legendary high school athlete, the diligent and successful inheritor of his father's glove factory, the proprietor of an eighteenth-century stone house in the heart of WASP country, the devoted husband of a beautiful and intelligent wife, and the father of a charming daughter, the Swede appears to have ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

Salon - Albert Mobilio

Structurally, the book is poorly shaped. Roth doesn't circle back to the 90-page preamble featuring Zuckerman, the ending feels arbitrary and the gratifying if bracing payoff that American Pastoral vigorously promises throughout is denied. But, if you want a Philip Roth book that isn't just another bulletin from his life, this one is that and more.

The Atlantic Monthly, Ralph Lombreglia

.... an allegory seemingly conceived in an abstracted realm of big notions and fixed ideas. American Pastoral is a relentlessly mental book, full of inconclusive rumination on material often left strangely undramatized. And that, along with the book's mystifyingly haphazard structure, prevents it from becoming a "genuine imaginative event."

The New York Times Book Review, Michael Wood

American Pastoral is a little slow--as befits its crumbling subject, but unmistakably slow all the same--and I must say I miss Zuckerman's manic energies. But the mixture of rage and elegy in the book is remarkable, and you have only to pause over the prose to feel how beautifully it is elaborated, to see that Mr. Roth didn't entirely abandon Henry James after all. A sentence beginning "Only after strudel and coffee," for instance, lasts almost a full page and evokes a whole shaky generation, without once losing its rhythm or its comic and melancholy logic, until it arrives, with a flick of the conjuror's hand, at a revelation none of us can have been waiting for.

The New York Times - Michiko Kakutani

One of Roth's most powerful novels ever...moving, generous and ambitious...a fiercely affecting work of art.

Boston Globe

Dazzling...a wrenching, compassionate, intelligent novel...gorgeous.

San Francisco Chronicle

At once expansive and painstakingly detailed.... The pages of American Pastoral crackle with the electricity and zest of a first-rate mind at work.

Booklist - Ted Leventhal

Pastoral, like Roth's 21 previous works, is well crafted with vivid, crisp prose, but unlike the others, it's empty....Roth vents his bitterness with America and himself. Once again, no one escapes the misery that personifies modern America.

Publishers Weekly

The protagonist of Roth's new novel, a magnificent meditation on a pivotal decade in our nation's history, is in every way different from the profane and sclerotic antihero of Sabbath's Theater.

Kirkus Reviews

Roth's elegiac and affecting new novel, his 18th, displays a striking reversal of form--and content--from his most recent critical success, the Portnoyan Sabbath's Theater (1995).  Here, and in more conventionally expository authorial passages, meditativeness and discursiveness predominate over drama. Nevertheless, passion seethes through the novel's pages.  Some of the best pure writing Roth has done. And Swede Levov's anguished cry "What the hell is wrong with doing things right?" may be remembered as one of the classic utterances in American fiction.

Library Journal - Barbara Hoffert

In his latest novel, Roth shows his age. Not that his writing is any less vigorous and supple. But in this autumnal tome, he is definitely in a reflective mood, looking backward. .... In the end, the book positively resonates with the anguish of a father who has utterly lost his daughter. Highly recommended.

Reader Reviews

Chris

The page that I choose to read.
I am 15 pages from the end of the paperback and am purposely writing this review before I finish the book. Anyone, who is from a small home town, and has been a part of pageant life should read this book. It is filled with feelings worth exploring. ...   Read More

debbie

Repetition, Anyone?
I chose to read this book because it was a Pulitzer winner and I cannot understand why [it won]. The story goes in circles, the writing style is wordy without much substance. How many times and ways can you say what essentially is the same thing ...   Read More

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