Sunday, November 27, 2005

Philip Roth: American Pastoral

Philip Roth's book, American Pastoral, was published in 1997, and won the Pulitzer Prize. It's an enjoyable read, with muscular prose and plenty of philosophical content and social commentary leveraged into the plot. I'm not going to write about it, but I'm going to quote it.

p. 19:

"...the Swede, tentatively flexing an elbow while half running and half limping off the field, spotted me among the other kids, and called over, 'Basketball was never like this, Skip.'

The god (himself all of sixteen) had carried me up into athletes' heaven. The adored had acknowledged the adoring. Of course, with athletes as with movie idols, each worshiper imagines that he or she has a secret, personal link, but this was one forged openly by the most unostentatious of stars and before a hushed congregation of competitive kids--an amazing experience, and I was thrilled. I blushed, I was thrilled, I probably thought of nothing else for the rest of the week. The mock jock self-pity, the manly generosity, the princely graciousness, the athlete's self-pleasure so abundant that a portion can be freely given to the crowd--this munificence not only overwhelmed me and wafted through me because it had come wrapped in my nickname but became fixed in my mind as an embodiment of something grander even thatn his talent for sports: the talent for 'being himself,' the capacity to be this strange engulfing force and yet to have a voice and a smile unsullied by even a flicker of superiority--the natural modesty of someone for whom there were no obstacles, who appeared never to have to struggle to clear a space for himself."

p. 43:
"Perhaps by definition a neighborhood is the place to which a child spontaneously gives undivided attention; that's the unfiltered way meaning comes to children, just flowing off the surface of things. Nonetheless, fifty years later, I ask you: has the immersion ever again been so complete as it was in those streets, where every block, every backyard, every house, every floor of every house--the walls , ceilings, doors, and windows of every last friend's family apartment--came to be so absolutely individualized? Were we ever again to be such keen recording instruments of the microscopic surface of things close at hand, of the minutest gradations of social position conveyed by linoleum and oilcloth, by yahrzeit candles and cooking smells, by Ronson table lighters and venetian blinds?"

1 comment:

yellojkt said...

I have never gotten past the first chapters of Portnoy's Complaint but it seems I have to read some Roth eventually.