Wednesday, May 16, 2007

I feel for you, Swede.

Finally finished American Pastoral, took me longer than I would have liked due to my family being in town, my brother's graduation and you know, various occurences.

So. I liked it. I didn't love it. I can see why it's an important book, and I appreciate how sprawling it is, how complete of a world it paints in terms of capturing the times and life of a blue collar family from Newark. It raises a lot of interesting thoughts and issues on what it is to make it in America and not make it, to be part of history. But beyond that, there's the questions of what it is to be a father, a family, a daughter, the kind of responsibility one should or shouldn't take, and how much control is it that we have over things? It's some heavy thoughts and stuff, set in a time of turmoil. It is clearly an intelligent book. But I guess it failed to move me to the depths that I would like to be moved. Some sentiments resonated with me, but the entire time I just kept thinking, Skip Zuckerman imagined all of this, so how am I supposed to even take any of this as fact?

Okay, now, aside from that, I did quite feel for the Swede, who did everything he could in the right way and yet everything still fell to shit. I also really identified with him at times, because I feel like I can be the same way - trying to make everyone happy, trying to tell people what they want to hear, straddling that middle, being who I can be that makes it work. And this part, I can relate so much:

She was nothing like the one he had imagined. And that was not because she had been passing herself off with him as something else or somebody else but because he had understood her no better than he was able to understand anyone. How to penetrate to the interior of people was some skill or capacity he did not possess. He just did not have the combination to that lock. Everybody who flashed the signs of goodness he took to be good. Everybody who flashed the signs of loyalty he took to be loyal. Everybody who flashed the signs of intelligence he took to be intelligent. And so he had failed to see into his daughter, failed to see into his wife, failed to see into his one and only mistress - probably had never even begun to see into himself.
--[pgs 409-410]

I so often feel like I'm horrible at looking into people... maybe because I want to believe in the best in people. Seemingly how Swede is. Does that make us both stupid? Too idealistic? To believe that this American dream is ours to hold if we just act the way we're supposed to? Is that the point here? Well, I'd venture that there are many points made here (some lost on me, I'm sure), but here now is the one that me at quarter-life (and of a different background) could most easily grasp. But now I digress.

Craft-wise, it was interesting to see how incredibly inconsistent it was, and yet it worked. The point of view shifts were what got me most notably, after the long diatribes and introspections, sometimes the point of view would shift for a moment, and that I found jarring at times. Yet it worked somehow. It's actually interesting. Starting from page 90ish, you could all but not realize that this story is actually a first person narrative, because, except for a few moments here and there, it pretty faithfully follows a close-ish 3rd. But when you remember it's actually a fictional imagining of Skip's in the 1st... I don't know, it changes things. It makes you wonder this whole setup, the whole point. Somehow he gets away with it.

So I had so much more to say about this book while I was reading it, because it was so dense, but because I loathe to markup my books, and I didn't have enough bookmarks to go around (I really want to write some company and tell them to please make bookmarks with little tab dispensers so I can mark pages), I forgot which passages they were and therefore, have also lost the little thoughts and issues I wanted to discuss.

I am definitely interested in reading another Roth, just to get a better sense of what the rest of books are like, how they differ in setup. I may do Plot Against America next, only because that concept has intrigued me.

Anyway, all in all, I thought this was an impressive work in its density, but on a subjective personal level, while it was thought-provoking, I didn't get as much personal satisfaction out of it as I have with other books. But definitely worth the read. I did like it.

On to the next. I know I should be forcing myself to read someone new or classic (I am on a classic turn now technically), but I've been itching to read the Ishiguro book I bought almost two months ago for awhile now. So I'm going to cave and do some pleasure reading. I love Ishiguro.

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