American Pastoral by Philip Roth

american pastoral

Set principally in New Jersey during the 60’s and early 70’s, but tangentially spanning nearly the full 20th century, American Pastoral retells the fable of the rise and fall of the American dream, succinctly analogous to the shattered lives of the Levov family. With the influx of immigration in the late 19th and early 20th century, the American economy boomed to become one of the world’s great superpowers. However, after the close of the 2nd world war, American ideals and values began their downward trajectory. This descent was hastened by the horrors of the Vietnam war and finally reached their nadir with the fall of Nixon. A prosperous family of business owners, the Levovs are self-made millionaires, intrepid businessmen who built their wealth from the ground up. But the order, the rectitude and the sanctity of their lives, indeed, of the American way of life, comes careening down in a burning wreck taunting them in their impotence and their ignorance.

My reading of this novel coincided with my listening to the Slowburn podcast, which I also heartily recommend. Slowburn is the story of the watergate scandal which brought an end to the Nixon presidency. The fear and confusion that so convulsed America, that a president of theirs could be so immoral, is the very same fear and confusion that mark Roth’s novel. Having both at the same time was like looking at a society in 3D.

It’s long but it’s a fantastic book. Loquacious in the extreme but with masterful prose; you never feel bored with Roth. Also quite unique in its form. I’m not sure a narrator has ever been so easily dispensed in place of the all conquering protagonist, Swede Levov. Anyway, 5 stars. No question.

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You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

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