Tuesday, July 19, 2011

American Pastoral

Thanks to the Highlander for hosting an exceptionally fun BC, especially bold coming off a holiday weekend.  We lounged in the salon nibbling (wolfing down?) two kinds of petite toasts, one with goat cheese and cucumber, the other featuring some sort of cheesy goodness.  Dinner was oven-roasted bruschetta with mozzarella and prosciutto, a simple but lish pasta with Parmesan and fresh ground black pepper (basically, the BFC's take on pasta cacio e pepe), and a butter lettuce salad.  Luckily, there was strawberry rhubarb crumble with vanilla ice cream for dessert--wouldn't want anyone to go hungry!

Around 8:30 we ventured into book territory.  American Pastoral, by Phillip Roth, rated in the low 7's and was described, almost to a person, as "dense" (foreshadowing the feeling after dinner). 

This book generated a lot of conversation, as would be expected from a story by one of the great contemporary American novelists.  But for all the book's prize-winning-ness, it was not unanimously loved or even liked, by any means.  For starters, it was--ah yes, dense.  American Pastoral demanded concentration and determination.  Roth could take up fifteen pages writing about the old Italian glovers on the shop floor and how they stitched each of the fourchettes (if you've forgotten, that's the piece of leather joining the front and back of the glove in between the fingers) by hand.  While la Mademoiselle relished the long passages about glove craftsmanship, the rest of us were wondering what it all had to do with the price of eggs in China.  But to be fair, Roth's minute attention to detail on some pages counterimposed with his folksy, rambling style on others was clearly all part of a master plan:  to construct, with exquisite precision, the "American pastoral" that was the life of Swede Levov--only to tear it down and expose the utter chaos beneath.  What an oeuvre!  But not so fast, there was plenty of criticism of this book apart from its density.  It was somewhat confusing--was the book a biographical account, or a story entirely made up by the narrator who disappeared without trace after the first few chapters?  It wasn't as good as we remembered it--for those who read it in college.  It was too graphic--or perhaps by Phillip Roth standards, too tame.  It was upsetting--Merry and Rita Cohen were too diabolical to read about.  Etc.  There also was quite a bit of disagreement, for example, as to whether the Swede and his wife were good parents.  Some thought they coddled Merry (such as letting her stay the night in New York) and were responsible for her demise.  Others could relate to their attempts to reason with Merry and to avoid alienating her.  Some perceived the kiss in the car as totally creepy, others found it innocently reminiscent of a scene in an old-fashioned film.  Some criticized the ending as disappointing and absurd, others found the absurdity to be a perfectly-crafted finale to the book.  In the end, everyone who finished American Pastoral felt that it was worthwhile to have persevered (except perhaps Red), and those who didn't said they were going to keep on going.  El Jefe has no doubts that everyone has finished it by now.



Nir Adar

Our next meeting is on Tuesday, August 2nd, hosted by Ms. K. at Logan's Run's new home.  El Jefe is on apps, Logan's Run on dessert.  We are reading Area 51: An Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military Base.  Mystery!  Intrigue!  Conspiracy!  Mehr-dehr!

Please bring your LOD suggestions so we can pick at least two new books.  Until next time, read early and often and have a Happy summer!