AWG Book Group discussion of American Pastoral, by Philip Roth, Friday, October 11, 2019

Another lively discussion, attended by ten members, and this time we talked a lot about the book.  Barbara, who had suggested the book, said she had never previously read anything by Philip Roth, but got the idea because her French book group was going to read Roth following his death last year. 
She noted that the book is divided into three sections:  Paradise Remembered, in which everything is good; The Fall, in which what’s happening is almost a mystery; and Paradise Lost, in which everything falls apart.  The storyline is somewhat satire, and somewhat sociological strata.  Although there is excellent character development, there are pages and pages devoted to glove-making and the factory.  And straightaway, in the first few minutes of the discussion, other members started to offer their comments.  One said the book is very personal and autobiographical, and that one of the most important topics was religion, with Jew versus Catholic actually being the basic cause of the tragedy.  Barbara said that one member who was not able to attend the discussion sent a message asking what the author was trying to tell us.  Might it be that life has no meaning?  Although one member said she liked the Swede more at the end of the book than at the beginning, another vehemently said that she did NOT.  Most of the rest of us expressed pity for him. 
Once again, Philip Roth’s talent with characters was mentioned, but this time there followed a qualification.  It was felt that Roth is always good describing male characters but usually not good describing women… except in the case of the Swede’s visit to the widow of the doctor who was killed by Merry’s bomb.  The comment was voiced that she got her revenge when she told him, “You’ll always have to live with this.”  We were less impressed with the character development of the nasty and somewhat unreal Rita, and there were mixed opinions about Dawn.
We agreed that the book really reflected the times, the 1970’s, and one member said it needed a good editor.  She felt that about 40% could have been cut.  Also on the negative side, the book leaves the reader still wondering what’s yet to come.  But, in fact, as one member commented, “getting it wrong is human nature.”  We agreed that the Swede definitely got it wrong, on all counts.  And although he was always afraid to speak his mind, his brother Jerry was not.  The Swede was described by one member as “shallow” at the beginning, but less repressed and more introspective at the end, even starting to have emotions.  We agreed that Roth’s misogynism shows up well in this book.  Lou Levov’s interrogation of Dawn before the engagement inspired sympathy for Dawn  in some members.  One also said the book was “riveting,” but not “fun.”  There was a lot of anger, but she particularly liked the hypocrisy of the dinner party.
Our discussion ended with the quote: “American Pastoral is Thanksgiving, a 24 hour truce where there is no religious difference.”  Our thanks to Barbara for recommending the book and for leading the discussion.