American Pastoral

By Philip Roth

The Short Take:

What an all-around fantastic book! The writing is amazingly good. The story is heart-breaking. I tend to like a lot of books (which is why I call myself a book lover rather than critic). However, this book outclasses almost everything I’ve read. It came out some 15 years ago but age hasn’t lessened its impact.


As the winner of a Pulitzer Prize and widely considered to be Roth’s masterpiece, that should be enough “why” for anyone. This book is simply brilliant. The story moves between the post WWII years, the radical 60s, and the turn of the century (close to when it was published). It illustrates how little we know of people and how what we assume can be miles from the truth. Even golden heroes are not what they seem, nor are their lives as fortunate as we think.

While the characters and the way they are revealed are reasons enough to read this book, the writing is exceptionally wonderful. You find yourself re-reading simple lines of description because they are so fresh yet so revealing.

It’s a delight, and it is deeply meaningful. American Pastoral explores feelings about America as a magical land of opportunity and an exploiter of the world. It shows that even a lifetime of doing the right thing can lead to disaster. It reveals how hard it is to ever determine the truth about anyone or anything.

It is one fantastic read. Since there is finally supposed to be a movie in the works, this might be the perfect time to read it. Again.

A Little Plot.

Nathan Zuckerman attends his high school reunion where he learns the high school athletic star and war hero, Swede Levov, has died. Reminiscing about his few encounters with Swede and what he learns from other sources, Zuckerman attempts to create a more realistic picture of the life everyone assumed was so blessed.

Swede seemed to flow through life with ease. However, nothing could have been further form the truth. In fact, the reality was literally explosive.

Philip Roth has recently declared his retirement. Thank goodness he has enriched American literature with so many special books like American Pastoral. Look for him on PBS’ American Masters in a rare interview on March 29.

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