Sunday, January 22, 2017

A Note On Philip Roth's American Pastoral


American Pastoral

I'm nearing, I think I'm nearing,  the end of the meeting finally, finally  had between the Swede and his daughter. And again I'm struck agog at Roth's brilliance and moved indescribably by what he evokes.

He is totally masterful in his control over the unfolding of  what he creates: Meredith's mad, nihilistic, self abnegating  utopianism is articulated by her with such calm, impregnable rationality, rationality because it's internally consistent in its absurdity, absurdity being a judgment about it, and not, as put by Roth via the Swede, the conclusion of an attack that can logically disassemble it. 

What helps make that madness so dramatically affecting is the Swede's insatiable decency, his unrelenting but futile effort to bring his daughter back to her senses, back to his love for her, back to her family, back to sanity, health and life. His calm, quiet, loving, insistent pleas and arguments to her show his unremitting parental bond--accented by her repeatedly calling him "Daddy"--rooted in both instinctive and understood love and obligation to a child, even an adult child, even a murderous adult child, stretched beyond limit, stretched past the point of fraying to breaking, still frustratingly intact. 

Why frustratingly? 

The reader, at least I do, wants to shout at the Swede, as Jerry his brother the shrink does, "Stop! Enough all ready! Stop reasoning with her! Get ferocious with her! Scream at her! Grab her and shake her out of her calm imperturbability! Drag her, kicking and screaming if need be, to a hospital ward! Or just write her off, please! Enough already!" 

But no, not the Swede. As I'm right now reading American Pastoral, his (maybe inhuman) tolerance and relatively tranquil approach to his daughter continues.  

The exploding of Utopianism in this meeting is as pitched and bitter as any I can remember ever reading in literature. There is a subtle trace, a subtle subtext, of Swiftian satire in the exploding, but the subtlety never obtrudes on the realism of the Swede's agonized, frenzied really, attempts to get his daughter back. The impact of his agony is only heightened by his iron willed discipline in keeping himself calm and quiet in the midst of and confronting Meredith's madness, her stuttering gone. Better she should stutter, thinks the Swede, than this.

It's all, every word of it, utterly amazing writing.

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