An athletic superstar, beloved by all, is living the American dream until his reality becomes a nightmare he cannot awake from.
Seymour the Swede, Levov grows up in Newark, New Jersey, an all-star athlete, admired by all, with the exception of his brother. He possesses the likability we all dream of with an ease that only makes him all the more winsome. Even as a Jewish Marine in the 1950’s, he faces little intolerance as his good-naturedness carries him through. He marries Miss New Jersey, takes over his family’s glove factory and settles into the American pastoral. The dream shatters when his 15-year-old daughter turns to anarchy in what she believes is the most appropriate response to the war in Vietnam.
The book’s narrator, Nathan Zuckerman is the instrument for the unfolding of Roth’s novel who has always admired the Swede. He meets with him briefly for dinner and when attending his 45th High School reunion learns he has died and what led to his undoing.
The Swede’s wife, and former Miss New Jersey, Dawn Dwyer does not, literally, wear her crown with pride. Moving to a rural town seems to allow her to avoid answering the questions related to her stint as beauty queen, yet her resentment of some snobbish neighbors make her questions her acceptance there.
Meredith “Merry” Levov seems troubled from her start. A Colicky baby becomes a prepubescent stutterer who becomes the FBI’s most wanted. We never get to know Merry and that is what unnerves this reader.
I would love to meet Mr. Roth and enjoy a glass of Sangria with some Paella in one of Newark’s many fine Portuguese restaurants. After regaling me with all tales Down Neck, I’d reach across the table and beg him to answer all things unanswered from American Pastoral. Yeah, yeah, yeah…I know it was intentional, but why not indulge me. I would end our tete a tete with a toast to this marvel for his recent lambasting of the man I will never acknowledge as POTUS.
And since we don’t just forget things because they don’t matter but also forget things because they matter too much–because each of us remembers and forgets in a pattern whose labyrinthine windings are an identification mark no less distinctive than a fingerprint–it’s no wonder that the shards of reality one person will cherish as a biography can seem to someone else who, say , happened to have some ten thousand dinners at the very same kitchen table, to be a willful excursion into mythomania.
That can happen when people die–the argument with them drops away and people so flawed while they were drawing breath that at times they were all but unbearable now assert themselves in the most appealing way, and what was least to your liking the day before yesterday becomes in the limousine behind the hearse a cause not only for sympathetic amusement but for admiration.
Here is someone not set up for life’s working out poorly, let alone for the impossible. But who is set up for the impossible that is going to happen? Who is set up for tragedy and the incomprehensibility of suffering? Nobody. The tragedy of the man not set up for tragedy–that is every mans’ tragedy.
Now, when she did not realize people were watching her, tears would rise in her eyes, eyes bearing that look both long accustomed to living with pain and startled to have been in so much pain so long.
My rating for American Pastoral is an 8 out of 10.
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Next up, Bram Stoker’s Dracula…