GAN Quest: American Pastoral by Philip Roth

american pastoralRude awakening…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Seymour ‘Swede’ Levov has it all. A star athlete in his college days, owner of a successful glove-making factory, married to a former Miss New Jersey, and living in the big country house he always dreamed of, he is the embodiment of the 1950s American Dream. And specifically, the immigrant dream – Swede is third generation Jewish-American, each generation having become a little more successful, a little less Jewish, better educated, more assimilated, more American. And why shouldn’t that progression continue with the fourth generation, Swede’s daughter Merry? Born to every advantage, cosseted and loved, what causes this girl to become involved with the anti-Vietnam War movement and, aged 16, bomb the village store and, in passing, kill a local doctor? This is the question that torments Swede during all the long years that Merry is on the run.

This is called a polishing machine and that is called a stretcher and you are called honey and I am called Daddy and this is called living and the other is called dying and this is called madness and this is called mourning and this is called hell, pure hell, and you have to have strong ties to be able to stick it out, this is called trying-to-go-on-as-though-nothing-has-happened and this is called paying-the-full-price-but-in-God’s-name-for-what, this is called wanting-to-be-dead-and-wanting-to-find-her-and-to-kill-her-and-to-save-her-from-whatever-she-is-going-through-wherever-on-earth-she-may-be-at-this-moment, this unbridled outpouring is called blotting-out-everything and it does not work

The story is told by Roth’s alter-ego, Nathan Zuckerman, who appears in several of his novels. In this one, Zuckerman was at school in Roth’s old hunting grounds of Newark with the Swede’s younger brother at the time when the Swede was winning glory on the football and baseball fields. To the young Nathan, he was a hero whose sporting skills lifted the morale of the community in the final years of WW2, and who was living proof that success was attainable for anyone from any background in the great meritocracy of the US. It’s only after the Swede’s death in the present day (late 1990s) that Zuckerman hears the story of Merry and the bombing. So the reader knows from the beginning that the story Zuckerman tells is not in fact ‘true’, except for the barest of bones, but instead Zuckerman’s imagining of it. The struggle to make sense of it all is in fact Zuckerman’s rather than the Swede’s. As a result, neither Swede nor Merry are fully real, not even in the fictional sense of that word. They are representations – Swede of the ’50s and Merry of the ’60s. Though that in itself is too simplistic, since Merry actually represents the most extreme aspects of the ’60s – the ones that leave Swede (i.e. Zuckerman) baffled and horrified.

Newark race riots
Newark race riots

Zuckerman talks of the Swede as ‘bland’, an ‘incognito’, a ‘human platitude’. He is stuck in his ’50s rut, a man so pleased with his life that he can’t see beyond its boundaries. His reaction to the race riots in Newark is one of incomprehension – it has never occurred to him to try to see the world through other people’s eyes, or to consider that the path to success might not be as easy for others as for him. He assumes his values are right and therefore shared by everyone. When Merry plants her bomb, she doesn’t just destroy the village post office, she smashes the smug certainties of Swede’s world and, by extension, destroys the ’50s American Dream he epitomises.

Merry exists not as herself, but only as Swede’s idea of her, and as a result her motivations are as incomprehensible to the reader as to her father. At first she appears as the idealised child he adores and later as the object of his anguish and bewilderment. She comes to represent everything Swede doesn’t understand about this new generation: who look outwards rather than in, who are contemptuous of the values of their parents, who get enraged about things that don’t directly affect them, who think the political system has failed them, and some of whom resort to violence to achieve their political aims. As she grows into adolescence and then adulthood, she turns into a monster, almost feral in her rage against everything Swede holds dear – especially the America that he loves. And when Swede finally finds her again, many years later, she has transformed into something so disgusting in his eyes that she appears barely human. And his tragedy is that still he loves her.

He stood over her, facing her, his power pinned to the wall, rocking almost imperceptibly back on the heels of his shoes, as though in this way he might manage to take leave of her through the wall, then rocking forward onto his toes, as though at any moment to grab her, to whisk her up into his arms and out.

"March Against Death" - November 1969 "Two, four, six, eight - now it's time to smash the state!" (Photo: DC Public Library Washington Star Collection)
“March Against Death” – November 1969
“Two, four, six, eight – now it’s time to smash the state!”
(Photo: DC Public Library Washington Star Collection)

The writing is superb – Roth at the very top of his game. Scalpel-like as he performs his dissection of this man, but filled with emotional power as he describes the Swede’s feelings of grief and despair. Beyond the two I’ve concentrated on, there is a whole cast of characters, each one carefully crafted to fill out Swede’s world. Dawn, his wife, desperate not to be forever pigeon-holed as a former beauty queen, but finding in the end that her beauty is a shield she can hide behind when her world collapses. Swede’s father, venting his anger and frustration at the world that made his grand-daughter into a monster. And the ambiguous Rita Cohen, the revolutionary friend of Merry who tortures and taunts the Swede, playing on the vulnerability of his desperate love for his daughter, using sex as an ugly weapon in her desire to humiliate.

The descriptive writing is just as strong. Swede’s pride in his business is shown through the lovingly detailed descriptions of every aspect of the glove-making process, from selection of the skins through the stretching and cutting to sewing and fitting. This is a place where craftspeople reverently produce items of beauty and quality for a world in which women still keep a glove drawer, with different shades and lengths to match each outfit – a ’50s style that also faded as the ’60s progressed, with Jackie Kennedy being perhaps the last great glove-wearing icon.

jackie-kennedy-gloves

“I love you,” he was telling Merry, “you know I would look for you. You are my child. But how could I find you in a million years, wearing that mask and weighing eighty-eight pounds and living the way you live? How could anyone have found you, even here? Where were you?” he cried, as angry as the angriest father ever betrayed by a daughter or a son, so angry he feared that his head was about to spew out his brains just as Kennedy’s did when he was shot. “Where have you been? Answer me!”

Philip Roth (Photo: Jenny Anderson/Getty Images)
Philip Roth
(Photo: Jenny Anderson/Getty Images)

This is an astounding book, well worthy of the Pulitzer it won in 1998. There’s enough realism in it to read it simply as a powerful and often deeply moving story of parental love and despair, but it’s true power is in Roth’s depiction of the massive culture shift that happened somewhere in the sixties, the rebellion of child against parent, youth against authority, citizen against state. And, fairly uniquely, we’re seeing it not from the perspective of the young looking back either with indulgence or anger at the past, but from the point of view of that past, that portion of society who saw the future unfold in ways they couldn’t understand, their values rejected by the children they had nurtured, their dreams crashing around them.

* * * * * * *

Great American Novel Quest

So…how does it fare in The Great American Novel Quest? To win that title it needs to achieve all five of the criteria in my original post…

Must be written by an American author or an author who has lived long enough in the US to assimilate the culture.

us flagAchieved.

The theme must shed light on a specific and important aspect of American culture and society of the time of its writing.

us flagWritten in 1997, the book is set in the recent past. I reckon the ’60s and their cultural upheaval were still reverberating strongly in the ’90s, and there’s no doubt that the Vietnam war was still at the forefront of the American consciousness, and influencing policy. So – achieved.

It must be innovative and original in theme.

us flagWhile both the failure of the American Dream of the ’50s and the upheaval of the ’60s have been written about many times, what makes this one feel innovative to me is that we see it happening from the point of view of the past looking forwards, while knowing that it’s actually being written from the present looking back. Also, the device of Zuckerman imagining the story from the few facts he knows gives Roth the freedom to present his characters as representations without them feeling like stereotypes or puppets. This triple layering – Swede/Zuckerman/Roth – is crucial to the success of the book. So – achieved.

Must be superbly written.

us flagI don’t always find Roth’s writing superb, but in this one he moves me, horrifies me, enrages me, disgusts me, and frequently leaves me breathless with the sheer power of his prose. Achieved.

Must capture the entire ‘American experience’.

us flagD’you know, for the first time I’m strongly tempted? Although the book is set in a very specific part of the culture – the Jewish immigrant community in Newark – the themes transcend the setting. The smashing of the ’50s dream, the generational shift, the diminishing of the relevance of tradition, the rise in direct action political protest, the growing participation of women in the political and intellectual arenas (not to mention their sexual liberalisation), the loss of respect for authority, the race riots, the impact of Vietnam – these are the things that define the ’60s for all of America, surely? In the same way as Swede is a representation of the ’50s, his small society is a microcosm of all America. I’m going to tentatively say – achieved! (Though I may change my mind after hearing what you have to say…)

* * * * * * * * *

So, (despite the fact that I still prefer both Gatsby and Revolutionary Road), for achieving 5 stars and 5 GAN flags, I hereby declare this book not just to be a great novel and A Great American Novel, but to be my first…

The Great American Novel

American Pastoral

Philip Roth

 

* * * * * * * * *

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

58 thoughts on “GAN Quest: American Pastoral by Philip Roth

  1. FictionFan – So very glad you enjoyed this one. I think it’s very difficult to capture the essence of the American experience (whatever that really is, anyway!) in a novel that’s not bloated in length. And I have to agree with you about the writing style here. 🙂

    • I remembered how impressed I was with this one when I first read it, maybe 15 years ago. But I was even more impressed this time round – the emotional power he gets into it is extraordinary.

    • Thank you! This was a re-read for me too, and I think I was actually more impressed second time round – knowing the outcome means there’s more time to concentrate on the writing rather than the plot.

  2. A stunning review. I reckon you’ll get a GAN reviewing award for your tireless GAN quest efforts. Are you applying for a Green Card?

    Hmm I need to read a Pulitzer for that Pop Sugar challenge. Hugely tempted. Thank you.

  3. Wow the premise to this sounds so complicated and if you hadn’t included some of the quotes I would have quickly concluded that it wouldn’t be for me. but I did love them! I also like the fact that this appears to be a story that can be enjoyed on many different levels from the narrower relationships to the wider issues covered. Once again a stunning review!

    • Thanks, Cleo! It must be 15 years since I first read this, so hard to remember, but I think I more or less did read it as just the parent/child thing back then. This time round, ‘cos I knew the plot, I was able to concentrate more on all the other stuff. It’s not an easy read, in terms of being quite harrowing at points, but I think it’s worth it…

  4. What an awesome review, I was lost in it for a little while there! I have to say that this doesn’t sound like my sort of thing at all but fascinating to read your thoughts on it. BUT – I am really curious about Merry and what happens to her and I like the perspective it is written from. I think I have sort of almost talked myself into giving this one a go at some point…

    • Thank you! 😀 I’m not Roth’s biggest fan generally – love/hate relationship – but this is such a powerful read. When I started the GAN Quest a year or so ago, this was the one that I knew straightaway I had to re-read – this and Gatsby, though they have nothing in common in terms of writing. So I’m glad it lived up to my memories of it – in fact, I think I got more out of it on this re-read…

      • Some books are just better second time round! I have made a little note of it in my notebook so I don’t forget. Something tells me I should give it a go at some point 🙂

        • Yep – and I really miss re-reading. I’ll be doing more of it this year, for definite. If you do get around to it sometime, I hope you enjoy it (enjoy might not be quite the right word for this one). I’d love to hear what you think. 🙂

  5. Whoa!!!! You actually did find one. I’m impressed. Now you just have to find the Twain one we all know is there. I’m sure he’s written one, after all.

    Jackie looks a bit odd. But the gloves are rather nice, I’d say.

    • Yes, I suspected this might be the one based on my memories of the first time I read it – nice to know I still think I’m right! *chuckles*

      Oh, finding the Twain one is your job – then you can let me know which one to read. So far you’ve only added 50% of his output to my TBR – I’m sure there must be room for more…

      I love all the glove stuff in this book – I rarely look at leather gloves now without wanting to check if they’ve been made properly.

        • *gasps* No it’s not!!! If I’d been cheating, Gatsby would have won!!

          *collapses in a heap* What???????? When did that happen? Has that tree been bashing you over the head again? But you know what this means… *nods encouragingly* … you must be becoming a Dickens fan!!

          If the stitching is in the right place round the fingers, if they stretch in the right places when you close your fist…

          • That book must read differently in Scottish. *nods to himself*

            Oh, I’m not sure…I’m in literary limbo. That’s it: literary limbo! Dickens…maybe. I’m quite open at the minute. No, the trees are resting peacefully outside.

            *impressed face* Wow…

            • *imagines Gatsby with a Scottish accent and laughs lots*

              Ooh, I want to be in literary limbo too – that sounds so cool! What’s been putting you off Mr Twain, then? I’m just about to start reading A Tale of Two Cities – have you read that one?

              I know! The things you can learn in books, eh?

            • Doesn’t seem out of place to me!!!

              Do it! I won’t feel so alone then. I’m not sure… I was reading his narrative accounts, and they can get a bit dry, I fear. No, I haven’t–Nick has. And he loves it to death. You’ll have to tell me if I should read it.

              I just think FEF is very knowledgeable. That’s what happens when you live that long, I guess. But then again, it didn’t happen for me…

            • *sticks out tongue*

              Well, secretly, there are bits of Dickens that bore me too. Nick is clearly a man of exceptional taste – has he read Bleak House? This will be a re-read of ATOTC for me, but it’s been years. From memory, I think you’d enjoy it loads and loads more than BH though – it’d probably have been the Dickens I’d have recommended to you… and it’s only half the length.

              *gasps, screams, collapses on floor sobbing* I’m 21! 21!!! D’you hear?? *slops on an entire jar of wrinkle cream*

            • So Aravis of you.

              I’m glad to hear that! Nick has indeed. He loves Dickens, actually. Both you and Nick make me look bad. You read too much, that is. Too bad you didn’t recommend that one! But BH is your favorite, so…

              *laughing lots* Slops it on? That will do no good now, madam.

  6. Great review! I read this years ago and retain a very clear memory not just of the story, but of the feel of the book. I haven’t read a huge amount of American C.20 literature, but Roth has always been one of the stand-outs.

    • Thanks! 🙂 It must be 15 years since I read it and I remembered it fairly clearly too, which as you know is quite unusual for me. I sometimes love Roth, sometimes hate him, but this one really stands out – both story and quality of writing.

  7. Have read a bit of Roth. I liked your review better than reading him however. I know he’s an icon and such. He does stand out, but often I am left feeling … weird. Perhaps that’s the point, I don’t know.

    • I have mixed feelings about him – I’ve disliked as many of his books as I’ve enjoyed, though I’ve only read a handful of them. But this one I think is brilliant – as you probably gathered! 🙂

    • Oh, I hope you enjoy it then! I must say I find him very variable – I’ve hated a couple of his books myself, and there are some I can’t even bring myself to read. But this one really works, I think… 🙂

  8. Oh, I was on pins and needles to read what you had to say, to see whether this one would send you over the edge. And it did! This book has been on my shelf for years. I may have to pull it off the shelf and put it in my TBR pile. This may sound strange, but his photo puts me off his work. I don’t know why. I get the sense, I think, that I’m going to be lectured, or some such thing.

    • Oh isn’t it funny how some instinctive gut reaction things can put you off (or draw you towards) a book. I knew I was going to love Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven because she had such a sweet, soulful and deep appearance (I did,) And – I’m so embarrassed to reveal this one – a particular book which shall remain nameless which was chosen by the majority of my bookclub – I absolutely knew I was going to hate because a combination of the subject matter (it was an autobiographical book) and the author’s first name suggested total self-indulgence and bad writing style to me) Of course, I had my prejudices verified, and couldn’t get beyond the Kindle ‘look inside’ because of screaming and shouting at this woman I had no desire to spend time with.

      Interestingly several others from the club, who did plough through the book, came to the same conclusions, but with rather better evidence! I think it may also have been an age thing, the ahem, more mature took agin her. There was a definite cult of celebrity about the book, and I’m horribly judgmental and dismissive of the famous for being famous brigade

      • Ah, perhaps that’s where it all went wrong – I didn’t look at her picture… 😉

        But that was kinda what happened to me with the names in Red Queen – with thinking of Shannon as a girls’ name, I don’t know how much that influenced me in constantly feeling the narrator’s voice was feminine…

      • I hear FF growling in the background. In my note to her, you will see that I have capitulated. I’ve got my fingers crossed. Perhaps we should change the adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” to “don’t judge a book by its author’s photo.” But you appear to have an uncanny ability to do just that. 😀

    • Yes, you should! I’m not sure how you’ll feel about it, but I’d be interested to hear. I think it’s different from most of his stuff – or at least the few I’ve read. Usually I find him quite self absorbed, but in this one he keeps himself in the background more. I knew when I started the GAN Quest that this would be a strong contender – the very fact that I remembered it after 15 years or so showed the impression it had left. It’s quite possible you will find him lecturing you… though he does it so well in this one, it works. I think. But I’ve switched the photo – see? Doesn’t he look sweet now? 😉

  9. Hi. am visiting your blog because of the link from your review of “American Pastoral” at Goodreads. I’ve just finished “American Pastoral,” and wanted to peruse some reviews I liked yours very much. The book is extraordinary, one of the very best novels I have read in many years. At times, I thought it might merit the appellation of “The Great American Novel,” but perhaps not quite that; I’d still give it to “The Great Gatsby” or “Moby-Dick.”

    This book has an amazing range and grasp of so many cultural, historical and existential issues. I wish the ending had been more fulfilling; but Roth gave readers an overview of Semour Levov’s life after 1975 in the earlier chapters, so I didn’t expect any revelations or denouements; though I did wish that Seymour could have punched Orcutt in the face at the dinner party. But that wasn’t his nature, obviously. The prose was corruscating; and it is a very nuanced novel. All of the characters have flaws, and most of them have strengths; it is not one-sided like all too many politically or socially correct novels currently written. It is a remarkable book, and I appreciated your glowing review of it. I am not too confident that we will be seeing anything as powerful and brilliantly written any time soon. I compare this to the recent Pulitzer Prize winning “A Visit From the Goon Squad,” by Jennifer Egan, and the immense disparity in quality is disconcerting.

    • Hi, William, thanks for visiting!

      Yes, it’s a fantastic book – some of the prose is so powerful it feels like getting punched. I have mixed feelings about Roth in general but this one is surely a masterpiece – it says so much and says it so well. I totally agree about the one-sided thing – so many authors use their books to hammer home their own political standpoint and, even if I agree with them, I find that annoying – I want to be shown all sides of the question and have the author respect me enough to let me decide for myself. Funnily enough, I’ve just read The Grapes of Wrath and although I think it’s a great book, I got tired of Steinbeck’s one-sided view in it. Life is rarely so simple.

      As far as current literature is concerned, I agree both Booker and Pulitzer winners have been hugely disappointing recently overall. But the reason I started the Great American Novel Quest was because I brashly claimed the title for Patrick Flanery’s ‘Fallen Land’ and then realised my knowledge of American literature was so woeful that I had a bit of a cheek! But I still think ‘Fallen Land’ comes closest to being a GAN for this decade – of books I’ve read. Not sure it has quite the power of American Pastoral, but my plan is to re-read it once I’ve read a few more of the established greats and see whether my initial view of it holds up. I highly recommend it to you. Here’s my review – https://fictionfanblog.wordpress.com/2013/03/02/fallen-land-by-patrick-flanery/

  10. I will read your review after I write this. I am inclined to purchase this book and read it, simply on the strength of your recommendation. I studied literature, and have read just about all of the classic American novels, but I have had a difficult time finding many current or near current books which even come close to them. When I saw Entertainment Weekly’s list of “The 100 Greatest Novels,” I felt like going on a rant, I was so upset at the insulting short shrift they gave to some of the truly great novels, in order to put in some people’s personal favorites, or to install more “diversity” in the list. I think that a great novel is a great novel; and the fact that it is written by someone of a particular ethnicity, or supports a particular social viewpoint, scarcely makes it a good novel in itself. I think that much of what passes for critical analysis today is simply an approval or disapproval of the social or political theme, not an appreciation of the aesthetics. I have never forgotten the much overrated American novelist Jane Smiley writing an article in Harper’s, where she apparently (I never read it but heard much about it) said that “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was a better book than “Huckleberry Finn.”

    Well, that’s another issue. I’m sure you have read, or certainly are aware of, the classic American novels. Even so, I will suggest that you read “Moby-Dick,” as it is one of the most complex philosophical novels ever written, even though of course the concept of whaling is not admirable. Two books by Faulkner, ‘The Sound and the Fury,” and “Absalom, Absalom.” You’ve read Gatsby; if you have not read “Tender is the Night,” then it is highly worthwhile ‘Bellow’s novella “Seize the Day.” I read Irwin Shaw’s “The Young Lions” not that long ago, and thought it was one of the best novels of the last century, and certainly part of “the American novel” history. And then maybe one of the superbly written mysteries by Ross MacDonald; perhaps “The Zebra-Striped Hearse,” or “Sleeping Beauty,” and then Philp K. Dick’s “Ubik,” an unforgettable book. Anyway, these are just some possible suggestions, perhaps some you might not have thought of.

    Just to add: I finished “American Pastoral” a couple of days ago, and the book is still affecting me. Sucn an indelible portrait of a character, and a complex reflection on recent American society, has that kind of power. And it is not all wrapped up; there are questions one wants to ask, not only about the people in the story, but even about the social history. And could the book have been even better; had Roth finished it a different way, or added this or that to the body of the work; or was it exactly the work that he wanted to write, from start to finish? I ordered two more Roth books, but I doubt that I will find them nearly as great as “American Pastoral.” I did read “The Plot Against America,” my first Roth book, and was surprised at how intelligent and compelling it was, and that is what occasioned me to buy “American Pastoral.” I had a favorite professor in college who later taught many extension classes at UCLA, and I would try to take some. He had one on “Anerican myth,” or something like that; and the last book was to be “American Pastoral.” Unfortunately, the class was in the afternoon, and it was too difficult to keep taking off work, so I didn’t coninue with it past the first class. I now wish that we had been able to discuss the book in the context of the theme of that course.

    • I find these lists of ‘great’ books are so weighted to recent bestsellers with just a few of the same old classics thrown in to make them look respectable. I’ve read hardly any American literature – being British not much of it was on our curriculum, though we did get the occasional Steinbeck thrown in. I’ve been enjoying reading some of the greats, but I can see it’s going to be a lifetime’s work!

      Moby Dick is on my GAN list – I was somewhat put off Melville by being forcefed Billy Budd at University, but I think it’s time to get over it, and give him another chance. 😉 It’s so long since I read Uncle Tom, really as a young child, that I hardly remember anything about it, and again will be re-reading it sometime over the next year or so. The two Faulkners you mention are also on the list, so good to have your backing for them. For some reason Bellow didn’t get any recommendations when I first asked on the blog for contenders, so I’m glad you reminded me that he really needs to be added. I don’t know Irwin Shaw at all, not even the name, so I’ll be able to read it with no preconceptions at all, which is always good. I had a huge Ross MacDonald phase as a teenager, and must give some of them a re-read at some point. And I’m also refreshing my knowledge of classic sci-fi, so Philip K Dick will fit in there. I’ve just recently fallen in love with Bradbury’s ‘The Martian Chronicles’ – I’m not at all sure it’s sci-fi, but it’s brilliant nonetheless.

      I read the rest of Roth’s American Trilogy after I read Pastoral the first time, and enjoyed them both, though neither is quite up to the standard of this one. But I’ve tried a couple of his other books and not got on with them at all. Sometimes he gets very self-obsessed, whereas in the three books of the trilogy he seemed to be looking more outwards.

      And Lolita is on my list to read too – one I’m looking forward to and can’t quite understand why I’ve never read before. Really my return to the classics has been caused by the mediocrity of so much of what is classed as literature today, so I think we’re finding the same problem with that. I’ve read more mediocre books over the last few years than in the whole of the rest of my life!

      Thanks so much for all the recommendations – you’ve reignited my enthusiasm for the Quest! 😀

      • If you did not like Billy Budd very much, you might not like Moby-Dick too well, although it is a much better book. It does have Melville’s complex sentence structure, and extemded descriptive passages Still, if you are on the quest for the GAN, you have to read it, because for a long time, it was considered the best American novel, and it may still be so, even though most modern readers are not going to sit through it. Ahab’s quest (not unlike yours!) has of course become a complex and dramatic metaphor.

        I ordered “Fallen Land” today, and also the two other novels in Roth’s American Trilogy. Might as well read them all! And of course I will let you know what I think of Fallen Land when I read it.

        I read Martian Chronicles twice, some years ago, and I very much liked it. I hope you read Ubik; I would enjoy reading your review of it.

        • I think it was University rather than the book – they even managed to put me off Dickens for a while! I recently read an extract from Moby Dick in an anthology, and rather liked his writing style, so that encouraged me a bit. We’ll see…

          Yes, please do let me know what you think of Fallen Land. It’s had mixed reviews, but I kind of anticipated that because for some reason the publishers decided to market it as a thriller, and although it has aspects of that, it’s definitely a ‘literary’ novel, so I think some people came to it with false expectations. I loved his earlier book Absolution too – about South Africa under apartheid.

          I’ve added Ubik to my list… 🙂

  11. Oh, I forgot “Lolita.” You likely have read it, but if not, it is certainly its own genre, and one never forgets it. I’m not even sure that it made the EW list, although another more thoughtful list had it ranked as one of the five greatest novels ever written. Also, Robert Silverberg’s “Dying Inside” is one of my favorite novels, even though it never makes these lists because it is considered a science fiction “genre novel.” But it is one of the only science fiction books which is a great novel in any context.

  12. […] Finally I have been a long, a very long time coming to this one. FictionFan strongly, strongly endorsed this, in her GAN quest, indeed naming it as The Great American Novel. I bought it, and there is sat on my bedside table for a couple of years. I think I had been too riven by other GANs to be able to handle further deeply uncomfortable, brilliant GANnish journeys. I got to it via a small subsection of my book group, who have embarked on some challenging American titles, and a slow, sectional read of them. This was my choice. Lacerating, and amazing, all together as FictionFan suggested, You can read her review […]

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