PPRL: American Pastoral (Winner, 1998)

Took me a hard minute to get through this one. Took me so long, in fact, that somewhere along the way I forgot that it was written in 1998. And I spent the entire time blaming what I felt to be some overlong, abstruse passages on it being stylistically dated. Shows how much my English degree is worth. (Zero dollars. It is worth zero dollars.)

Anyway, the brilliance of this novel did not synthesize for me until the last chapter, where just a surreal level of storytelling takes shape. Everything comes together in a tidal wave of tragedy that the preceding narration - often chronologically exhausting, with unapologetically meandering prose - does not foretell. But again, clearly I know fuck-all.

It was a surprisingly timely choice on my part, set against a backdrop of racial tension and rioting, political violence, and extreme governmental corruption (Nixon era). And I have deep respect for this novel even if I think I might not be running back to Philip Roth anytime soon.

quick bits that got me:

...there was an almost girlish softness to her flesh, indicating that perhaps she hadn't partaken of every last one of the varied forms of suffering available to a woman over a lifetime.

A body that looks quickly put on after having just been freshly ironed-no folds anywhere.

margin notes/paper topics:

How isolated we ultimately are in our experience of the world, and how devastating to learn the things we love most might mean not a whit to others.

The juxtaposition of how unsuccessfully Seymour raised his family vs. how perfectly Dawn raised her "family" (the cattle). What is that difference rooted in? Is it because of how much control Seymour tried to exert? Or, in fact, how little? (how hands-off he is with Merry) Note that Dawn's bull is more tractable, more docile than their own daughter. 

What's the significance of gloves, as a theme? A sort of insulation against the word? A layer of protection? Or are they in fact the ultimate symbol of the doomed classism that Merry rails against? Is Seymour the bad guy after all?

The end of American innocence; how is Merry's emotional and physical trajectory an encapsulation of America's own story?

vocabulary alert!

insentient, flak, chiropodist, cordovan, scuttlebutt, anapest, munificence, jeroboam, fourchette, zabaglione, piker, rotogravure, rebarbative, acculturating, isomorphism, etiology, inveigle, fecund, gambrel, panacea, ganglion, polonaise, uxorious, mullein