Customer Reviews for

American Pastoral

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

Worthy of the Pulitzer

American Pastoral is the background for one seemingly idyllic family in post-war and Vietnam-era America. The story intertwines the love story of an All-American high school football star Swede Levov and a ravishing, determined former Miss New Jersey Dawn Dwyer. Toget...
American Pastoral is the background for one seemingly idyllic family in post-war and Vietnam-era America. The story intertwines the love story of an All-American high school football star Swede Levov and a ravishing, determined former Miss New Jersey Dawn Dwyer. Together they weave the perfect romance, buying a country home in rural, Revolutionary-era New Jersey, fusing religious differences between their families, and raising a child who seems to be the culmination of the construction of an insurmountable family fortress. But from the novel's opening in present day, misconception runs rampant throughout the storyline. The novel's shifting narrator initially encounters the older Swede Levov, and quickly compiles in his mind what must be this successful businessman's and laudable family man's history, only to find the exact opposite. Amid the turbulent sixties, it seems the rearing of the Levov's daughter, Merry, has gone amiss, not by any doing of their own, but from external intangibilities. At the age of 16, Merry systematically blows up the local market, killing one prominent resident and sending her own family into turmoil. She flees, and it seems that the Levovs cannot combat the grief and despair which is the fallout not only of their daughter's alienation and abandon, but also (later) of her being adament to blame her seemingly ideal and serene upbringing as the catalyst for her rebellion. Philip Roth brings into question both sides of this argument: the utter irrationality of Merry's actions, and Swede Levov's vain attempt to reason and pinpoint his daughter's deviance. The alteration in the narrative between flashback times of peace, a congenial family, his utter devotion to his wife...and current ones of despair, psychologically estranged friends, and a static lifestyle, seem to tear Swede Levov in two. The novel explores our desires for the ordered life and its consequences, the validity of trying to maintain such a lifestyle in spite of unassailable corruption, and the worth of the trust we place in our friends, family, and selves. In many ways, the novel is a progression distrust (nearly incorrect and inoperable paranoia), where irrevocably, every relationship and institution in which Swede Levov has found consolation is challenged, if not wholly destroyed. By the end of Roth's sweeping and panoramic achievement, we get a sense that it is the Levovs ideal life at fault...their want to uphold the American dream, to love each other, protect each other from harm, live a life merely amongst themselves, on the surface, not ignorant of the world, but content with themselves. At its core, American Pastoral questions the very epitomy of existence and contentment which we idealize, and its flawed impregnability. There is nothing much more tragic than the exact opposite outcome of what a life of protective diligence has attempted to immortalize, yet that is the subject matter of this novel. A tremendous work.

posted by Anonymous on June 12, 2006

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Most Helpful Critical Review

1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

I was so disappointed

I have been a Philip Roth fan all of my life. Since Portnoy's Complaint, When She Was Good, Goodbye Columbus... this book is absolutely nowhere near it. The first 80 or so pages are downright boring; the narrative is OK and shows experience in writing, but the character...
I have been a Philip Roth fan all of my life. Since Portnoy's Complaint, When She Was Good, Goodbye Columbus... this book is absolutely nowhere near it. The first 80 or so pages are downright boring; the narrative is OK and shows experience in writing, but the characters are oddly disengaging and, frankly, I don't feel anything for the Swede, Jerry, Merry or any of the cast of characters. Nothing. Like a blank. Or an empty space. I truly would not recommend it.

posted by marc-medios on July 15, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2006

    Worthy of the Pulitzer

    American Pastoral is the background for one seemingly idyllic family in post-war and Vietnam-era America. The story intertwines the love story of an All-American high school football star Swede Levov and a ravishing, determined former Miss New Jersey Dawn Dwyer. Together they weave the perfect romance, buying a country home in rural, Revolutionary-era New Jersey, fusing religious differences between their families, and raising a child who seems to be the culmination of the construction of an insurmountable family fortress. But from the novel's opening in present day, misconception runs rampant throughout the storyline. The novel's shifting narrator initially encounters the older Swede Levov, and quickly compiles in his mind what must be this successful businessman's and laudable family man's history, only to find the exact opposite. Amid the turbulent sixties, it seems the rearing of the Levov's daughter, Merry, has gone amiss, not by any doing of their own, but from external intangibilities. At the age of 16, Merry systematically blows up the local market, killing one prominent resident and sending her own family into turmoil. She flees, and it seems that the Levovs cannot combat the grief and despair which is the fallout not only of their daughter's alienation and abandon, but also (later) of her being adament to blame her seemingly ideal and serene upbringing as the catalyst for her rebellion. Philip Roth brings into question both sides of this argument: the utter irrationality of Merry's actions, and Swede Levov's vain attempt to reason and pinpoint his daughter's deviance. The alteration in the narrative between flashback times of peace, a congenial family, his utter devotion to his wife...and current ones of despair, psychologically estranged friends, and a static lifestyle, seem to tear Swede Levov in two. The novel explores our desires for the ordered life and its consequences, the validity of trying to maintain such a lifestyle in spite of unassailable corruption, and the worth of the trust we place in our friends, family, and selves. In many ways, the novel is a progression distrust (nearly incorrect and inoperable paranoia), where irrevocably, every relationship and institution in which Swede Levov has found consolation is challenged, if not wholly destroyed. By the end of Roth's sweeping and panoramic achievement, we get a sense that it is the Levovs ideal life at fault...their want to uphold the American dream, to love each other, protect each other from harm, live a life merely amongst themselves, on the surface, not ignorant of the world, but content with themselves. At its core, American Pastoral questions the very epitomy of existence and contentment which we idealize, and its flawed impregnability. There is nothing much more tragic than the exact opposite outcome of what a life of protective diligence has attempted to immortalize, yet that is the subject matter of this novel. A tremendous work.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 11, 2013

    Good, but nowhere near Roth's best. I am suprised this is herald

    Good, but nowhere near Roth's best.
    I am suprised this is heralded by many as Roth's masterpiece. I think it is far from it. The book is good, don't get me wrong. If written as a debut novel, the author would be jettisoned into Frazen-like popularity. It's good, it's good, it's all good. But, as much as I may have wanted to, I couldn't say it's great. Because it's simply good.
    The characters are interesting but not revolutionary. The prose is great, but not as sharp as Sabbath or Nemesis. So much about the novel is good. So. Much. But it's not his masterpiece.
    I will say. This book has one particular joke that made me laugh harder than anything I've ever read. It is simultaneously the worst and funniest thing that ink ever put on paper.  I shan't ruin it here though. I shall only say it regards circumcision and the priesthood. 

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 19, 2013

    Gorgeous, beautiful writing

    Roth is truly a madter of his craft. One of the top 5 modern American writers and American Pastorale seals the deal. Gorgeous prose.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 7, 2012

    I had a little bit of trouble getting into this book at first. I

    I had a little bit of trouble getting into this book at first. I knew that it had won a Pulitzer and had read one other book by Phillip Roth (Indignation) which was very good. Eventually I got totally involved in American Pastoral and couldn't put it down. A huge amount of thinking and effort went into this project by Roth. It's full of poignant, vivid descriptions, excellent and thorough character development and lots of wisdom. Loved that! He has an amazing vocabulary and used many words foreign to me. But I know from taking lots of lit classes that not every word unknown to the reader needs clarification. You most likely will get the meaning anyway. When I got to the last chapter, the dinner party, I started to get a little worried as to why I was so near to the end of the book before certain things were left unsettled. As the chapter moved on it seemed even more surprising. Finally, at the end, the unsettled things were settled. But settled in such a way that it felt hurried and sudden. I can't help but wonder if others felt this way. I really did not like the ending. Otherwise I would have given it 5 stars. I actually slammed the book shut.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 15, 2011

    I was so disappointed

    I have been a Philip Roth fan all of my life. Since Portnoy's Complaint, When She Was Good, Goodbye Columbus... this book is absolutely nowhere near it. The first 80 or so pages are downright boring; the narrative is OK and shows experience in writing, but the characters are oddly disengaging and, frankly, I don't feel anything for the Swede, Jerry, Merry or any of the cast of characters. Nothing. Like a blank. Or an empty space. I truly would not recommend it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 17, 2009

    Very interesting narrator

    This book managed to focus on the theme of the political and social upheaval of the late 1960's and early 1970's without coming across as cliche or a mere rehashing of things that have already been said.

    Roth is very fair to the characters. I think he portrays the nuances of the older generation quite well rather than relying on the stereotypes that are often used in films and books exploring this time period.

    I found the writing style very accessible and enjoyable. His characters were well developed and he kept my attention throughout the novel. His focus on the glove industry reminded me of Melville's focus on whaling in Moby Dick.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 7, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    American Pastoral provides a thorough view of the successes and painful undercurrents which ran it's course through one truly American family.

    The title of Dave Eggers "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" may have coined the phrase which may best describe this monumental novel. All of us have had a Swede Lenov (Roth's protagonist) touch our lives at some point. Swede is the American "everyman", whose successes are carried humbly through his life until he experiences a dismantling of which he was unprepared to ever comprehend. Roth expertly crafts this story using sketches of his secondary characters in a manner which delivers essential facts yet doesn't explore them any more than necessary.

    This book has joined my list of favorites, and ranked highly among them.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 30, 2007

    Incredible....

    I became immersed in this book and read it in one week. Each character is so different, yet Roth points to their strengths and weaknesses in his successful effort to unite them in one multi-dimentional reality. The wordiness is necessary and ingenious. Roth, by drawing you into conversations and thoughts, brings you as close as an author can bring you to the characters and their perceptions. It's a great book that will grab and take hold of you until you are finished reading. Then, it'll stay with you for certain.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 14, 2005

    Worthy of the pulitzer!

    Long winded? Yes. Detailed? Yes. However if you love excellent character development along with a magnificent story line, this book is for you. Intelligent and empathetic, this is a masterpiece worthy of reading again and again!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 31, 2004

    One of Roth's best

    This is one of Roth's best books and by far his best treatment of the American dream . The whole story of as one reader - reviewer says here of a person who does everything right, and yet whose life comes out wrong is a kind of moral message for many of us. There is much pain and beauty in this work, and one incredibly moving and funny set- piece , that of the high- school reunion with the veterans parading their trophies and bandages that makes for great reading. There is too a little much dutiful description of the leather industry and also a bit too much of a life going from one crisis- transformation to another . It may be true to reality, but does anyone have the patience to follow reality in all its details. Nonetheless one of Roth's best and most insightful in understanding the complex American worlds of the late twentieth century.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2013

    Best Roth

    Heartbreaking

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2012

    Disjointed, hard to follow

    While some of the plot lines were interesting, the style of writing was boring. Get to the point! You are in the middle of a paragraph then it takes off in another direction, back story, back in the past. I have never read a book that put me to sleep as often as this one did.
    I guess I'm missing something.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2012

    interestin

    not bad at all

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2012

    Must-read

    One of my favorite books.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2010

    A waste of time

    Much too wordy. The story could have been told in a golden book. Does he think his readers are so dense as to not understand his simple command of the language. So redundent for such a simple tale.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 23, 2007

    OK, so confusing and sloppy is brilliant now? Whatever...

    I could not wait to be finished with this tiresome book which took far too many words to repeatedly hammer out the same tired thoughts over and over and over again! I did find the whole glove-making history interesting, however, and the Levov family will occupy my thoughts for a short while. I HATED the way it alternated at will and without logic between the first and third person POV, and sometimes the first persons were different people and I had to guess who it was! Why did Zuckerman disappear? Too confusing for us mere mortals. I guess when you're an established 'great American writer' you can be so self-indulgent. I fail to see the touted greatness of this book.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 28, 2005

    a little wordy but an excellent character analysis

    A very good character analysis of the person nicknamed 'The Swede,' and an excellent portrayal of how the nineteen-sixties affected his perfect but average American family. Roth's prose is exquisitely detailed, although a little wordy. We certainly don't need to know every detail of glove manufacturing, although it must be said that Roth is nowhere near as bad as Saul Bellow. But the wordiness is only a minor quibble over an otherwise excellent book, full of psychological richness, and giving us as much insight into our own characters as we can bear.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 19, 2003

    Great story - a little Long-Winded

    Roth's novel American Pastoral is a very interesting story - I love how he makes the story just an exaggeration. The main character The Swede is the narrator's childhood hero, and once they meet up after 50 years the narrator makes up a story about how his life probably was. The story of the Swede is a direct illustration that childhood heros will remain omnipotent if the hero doesn't break the illusion of perfection. The narrator's illusion was crushed, thus, the story of the Swede's imperfect American Pastoral comes to light. Roth did a great job - but I have to give only four stars because he oftentimes dragged on and on when a simple paragraph would have been sufficient (he instead would take three pages). Besides that, I would definately recommend American Pastoral and I think it would be great to see someone's interpretation on film!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 29, 2003

    Brilliant

    Through Roth's narrator, 'American Pastoral' tells us the tragic story of one New Jersey family. By turns hilarious and horrific, the novel deals with the inability of anyone to truly understand anyone else.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2002

    Loved the Story - Disliked the Prose

    It is hard not to appreciate the aspects of America after reading this book. Roth painted gutwrenchingly clear pictures of American Life; the power and the powerlessness of love, the inherent beauty in the freedom to pursue our own destiny, and the bleak pictures of dreams not coming true. The feelings the novel evokes touch a deeper part of our souls - of what's important, our anger at injustice and our hatred for what isn't right in this world. The single criticism I have of this work is the prose. At times it is hard to digest, two rambling scenes could have made their point without their length, and the narrative piece never circled back to the narrator. In retrospect, however, for lovers of America, the story is worth the reader's time.

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