Indignation

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Against the backdrop of the Korean War, a young man faces life’s unimagined chances and terrifying consequences.

It is 1951 in America, the second year of the Korean War. A studious, law-abiding, intense youngster from Newark, New Jersey, Marcus Messner, is beginning his sophomore year on the pastoral, conservative campus of Ohio’s Winesburg College. And why is he there and not at the local college in Newark where he originally enrolled? Because his father, the sturdy, ...

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Overview


Against the backdrop of the Korean War, a young man faces life’s unimagined chances and terrifying consequences.

It is 1951 in America, the second year of the Korean War. A studious, law-abiding, intense youngster from Newark, New Jersey, Marcus Messner, is beginning his sophomore year on the pastoral, conservative campus of Ohio’s Winesburg College. And why is he there and not at the local college in Newark where he originally enrolled? Because his father, the sturdy, hard-working neighborhood butcher, seems to have gone mad -- mad with fear and apprehension of the dangers of adult life, the dangers of the world, the dangers he sees in every corner for his beloved boy.

As the long-suffering, desperately harassed mother tells her son, the father’s fear arises from love and pride. Perhaps, but it produces too much anger in Marcus for him to endure living with his parents any longer. He leaves them and, far from Newark, in the midwestern college, has to find his way amid the customs and constrictions of another American world.

Indignation, Philip Roth’s twenty-ninth book, is a story of inexperience, foolishness, intellectual resistance, sexual discovery, courage, and error. It is a story told with all the inventive energy and wit Roth has at his command, at once a startling departure from the haunted narratives of old age and experience in his recent books and a powerful addition to his investigations of the impact of American history on the life of the vulnerable individual.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
On the other side of the world, the Korean War is raging, but Marcus Messner's thoughts are occupied instead with the rants of his frightened father, an earnest, slightly paranoid butcher in gritty Newark. Unnerved by his dad's intensity, young Marcus escapes to the pastoral confines of conservative Winesburg College in Ohio. There he experiences a midwestern rite of passage not easily imagined by a quiet New Jersey teenager. Another carefully sculpted novel by Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner Philip Roth.
Ron Charles
Copies of Indignation, Philip Roth's ferocious little tale, ought to be handed out on college campuses along with condoms and tetanus shots. This cathartic story might vent some of the volatile self-righteousness that can consume the lives of passionate young people (and, yes, old people too). It's not that it breaks any new ground; the author's favorite themes are all here—the comic sexual frustration of Portnoy's Complaint, the assimilation anxieties of the Zuckerman books, the enraged grievance of The Human Stain—but with Indignation, Roth presents his most concentrated parable of self-destructive fury…Here's a novel to be witnessed as an explosion from an author still angry enough to burn with adolescent rage and wise enough to understand how self-destructive that rage can be.
—The Washington Post
Michiko Kakutani
…a darkly comic exercise in the danger of self-fulfilling prophecies and the folly of thinking that being a hard-working A student will offer any sort of protection from the mad vagaries of fate.
—The New York Times
David Gates
Roth's secret, I think, is his supreme confidence as a storyteller—and, paradoxically, a supreme humility. His writing is at the service of his story and characters; he’s a pragmatist, not a belletrist. If certain conventions of plot and language do the job, why get fancy? He can break out the fine writing when the occasion requires…The unnamed protagonist of Everyman at least gets a joyous flash of himself as a boy at the ocean before the lights go out; Indignation makes even that terminally grim book seem sentimental. Everyman and Exit Ghost both have a mood of sorrowful resignation; this book goes about its grieving savagely. And of all Roth's recent novels, it ventures farthest into the unknowable. In his unshowy way, with all his quotidian specificity and merciless skepticism, Roth is attempting to storm heaven—an endeavor all the more desperately daring because he seems dead certain it's not there.
—The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly

Roth's 29th book tells the tale of young Marcus Messner, a boy forced to attend a pastoral, conservative college because of his father's apprehensions about life in 1951 New Jersey. Narrator Dick Hill delivers a sturdy performance that manages to bring Messner to life, but never really captures the listeners attention as he normally does. As talented as Hill is, there's something lacking in his characterization. He reads with a droning, slightly whiny voice that sometimes grates. Hill always seems on the verge of losing himself into the tale only to yank himself back from the edge at the last moment. He has a knack for bringing characters to life, but here he sounds tired. A Houghton Mifflin hardcover (Reviews, May 12). (Sept.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Pulitzer Prize winner Roth returns to the territory of his first novel, Goodbye Columbus, in his 29th book, set in 1951 at a conservative Ohio college campus against the ever-present shadow of the early Korean War. Three-time Audie Award winner Dick Hill's accents and emotions are amazing in their realism; he takes listeners on a roller coaster ride of the incredible sadness and indignation of the short life of New Jersey-born protagonist Marcus Messner. A worthwhile listen, but the graphic descriptions of sex and sexual acts and preponderance of swearing don't recommend this to the sensitive listener. [Scott Rudin has acquired the film rights; the Houghton Harcourt hc received a starred review, LJ9/1/08.-Ed.]
—Scott R. DiMarco

Kirkus Reviews
In a plot that evokes the author's earlier work, Roth (Exit Ghost, 2007, etc.) focuses on a young man's collegiate coming of age against the deadly backdrop of the Korean War. The book has a taut, elegant symmetry: A nice Jewish boy named Marcus Messner from Newark, N.J., reaches the turbulent stage where he inevitably clashes with his parents, his butcher-shop father in particular. After continuing to live at home for his first year of college, Marcus, the novel's narrator as well as protagonist, feels the need to emancipate himself by enrolling in a college as unlike urban New Jersey as possible, one that he finds in Winesburg, Ohio. Whatever of his Jewishness he is trying to escape, he discovers that his ethnicity provides the stamp of his identity on the pastoral campus, where he is first assigned to room with two of the school's few other Jewish students and soon finds himself courted by the school's lone Jewish fraternity. There's resonance of the culture clash of Goodbye, Columbus (1959) and the innocence of The Ghost Writer (1979) in the voice of this bright young man, who isn't quite experienced enough to know how much he doesn't know. The novel reaches its climax-in a couple of senses-when the virginal Marcus becomes involved with the more experienced Olivia, whose irresistible sexuality seems intertwined with her psychological fragility. Can Marcus be Olivia's boyfriend and still be his parents' son? Can he remain true to himself-whatever self that may be-while adhering to the tradition and dictates of a college that shields him from enlistment in a deadly war? Is Winesburg a refuge or an exile?A twist in narrative perspective reinforces this novel's timelessness. Agent: JeffPosternak/The Wylie Agency
From the Publisher

"In a plot that evokes the author’s earlier work, Roth (Exit Ghost, 2007, etc.) focuses on a young man’s collegiate coming of age against the deadly backdrop of the Korean War. The book has a taut, elegant symmetry....A twist in narrative perspective reinforces this novel’s timelessness." Kirkus Reviews, Starred

"As provocative as his astonishing The Plot Against America...[A] fast-paced, compassionate, humorous, historically-conscious novel..." Booklist, ALA, Starred Review

"We can see again his shocking ability to bring history to bear on the present. As always, the rpose is well built -- sinewy and graceful -- and, as always, the wit is as sharp as a German knife. There are simply no novels by Roth in which you cannot detect the hand of a master. -- Vince Passaro O, The Oprah Magazine

"...there's a lovely perplexedness to the writing here...It's a terrific book..." Gentleman's Quarterly

"Of how many writers can it be said that they're still producing some of their best work well into their 70s? With [Indignation], his 24th novel, Philip Roth proves beyond any dispute that he deserves to be counted in that select group." Bookpage

A meditation on love, death, and madness, Roth's new novel combines the comic absurdity of his early novel like Portnoy's Complaint with the pathos of his later novels like Everyman and Exit Ghost.
Library Journal Starred

“Roth has been burning up the track for well over a decade now … And in INDIGNATION his power and intensity seem undiminished...
Roth's secret, I think, is his supreme confidence as a storyteller -- and, paradoxically, a supreme humility...
Of all Roth's recent novels, it ventures farthest into the unknowable. In his unshowy way, with all his quotidian specificity and merciless skepticism, Roth is attempting to storm heaven -- an endeavor all the more desperately daring because he seems dead certain it's not there." -- David Gates, on the cover of The New York Times Book Review

...but he is a master. And the short form serves the story: The shocking rush from this book comes from watching Roth expertly and quickly build up to a half-dozen final pages that absolutely deliver the kill. A- Entertainment Weekly

...as sharply honed as one of thos butcher-shop knives that haunt Marcus's dreams. If this is a hard book to love, it's a lot harder to forget. --Malcolm Jones Newsweek

... the interplay between a life just begun and ended, impulse and reflection, college high jinks and eternity is what makes it resonate. 4 Stars People Magazine

Once again [Philip Roth] demonstrates why he is the winner of so many prizes and why he continues to be hailed as one of America's greatest novelists...[Indignation] adds further evidence of his superb talent as a foremost literary craftsman. --The Jewish Advocate

Mr. Roth is a master magician who can make the same old rabbits do new tricks.
New York Sun

A magnificent display of writerly talent: a lean, powerful novel with bold characters who command attention, scenes of impressive dramatic itnerest and comic vitality, language that blasts the reader's cozy complacency (it's not called Indignation for motnhing), and a theme that swells imperceptibly from a murmer to a satisfying roar...Read Indignation -- read it with a ear for the naked power of Philip Roth at full tilt. -- Adam Begley, The New York Observer

Indignation is impossible to put down until it's finished. Then, it's impossible to shake off the aftermath of this mesmerizing story. Seattle Times/Post-Intelligencer

Copies of Indignation, Philip Roth's ferocious little tale, ought to be handed out on college camuses along with condoms and tetanus shots...Here's a novel to be witnessed as an explosion from an author still angry enough to burn with adolesdent rage and wise enough to understand how self-destructive that rage can be. --Ron Charles, Book World The Washington Post

The Barnes & Noble Review
Philip Roth must have emerged indignant from the womb, so fiery has been the burning thread of fury glowing through the heart of his oeuvre: Class resentment appears early in his debut, Goodbye Columbus. By the time Portnoy's Complaint rolls raucously into town, this has transformed into something considerably deeper and rawer: "What I'm saying, Doctor, is that I don't seem to stick my dick up these girls, as much as I stick it up their backgrounds..." Nathan Zuckerman expressed resentment at the demands of celebrity. Revulsion against puritan politics informs the celebrated American Trilogy, and in his final act, confronted with mortality and clash between Eros and Thanatos, Roth now rages against the dying of the light.

Having now published his 36th book at the age of 75, his capacity for righteous indignation has not dimmed but the old sharpness has dulled, leaving readers with little more than echoes of stronger works. How strong are these echoes? Indignation is filled with familiar Roth tropes: Newark, a confrontation of 1950s mores, a studious young Jewish son of well-meaning if interfering parents; a beautiful, promiscuous, damaged shiksa. An obsession with sex and with death.

If that doesn't give you enough of a sense of "been there, seen that," Portnoy's Complaint and Indignation both include, nearly verbatim, Roth's grade-school memories of what his teachers called "The Chinese National Anthem." From Portnoy: "And then my favorite line, commencing as it does with my favorite word in the English language: 'In-dig-na-tion fills the hearts of all of our coun-try-men! A-rise! A-rise! A-RISE!' " Now this, from Indignation, when its young protagonist, Marcus Messner, is forced to attend Christian religious services at his rural Ohio college: "I inwardly sang out the most beautiful word in the English language: 'In-dig-na-tion!' "

An uncharitable interpretation would suggest that Roth is either unaware he's repeating himself or doesn't mind (or care). He has, after all, given his normally recursive tendencies an unfettered hand in his last few books: From the conclusion of the Zuckerman saga in Exit Ghost to the conclusion of the saga of the body in Everyman to the mining, once again, of his childhood in The Plot Against America, Roth has scarcely stepped away from himself. But perhaps the counterfactual structure of The Plot Against America suggests a more charitable reading of Indignation as something of an anti-history itself. The self-righteous, unyielding Marcus Messner can stand in for any number of earlier Roth heroes, and perhaps Indignation -- the song will have a chilling relevance for Marcus -- is meant to be read as a consideration of what might have happened had Portnoy or Zuckerman or Sabbath (or Roth) not had their hour upon the stage. This seems in keeping with Indignation's stated theme, adumbrated in The Plot Against America: namely the great reverberations of seemingly insignificant choices. Roth, it seems, has discovered chaos theory, but, having done so, delivers a disappointingly heavy-handed treatment of his material.

When we join Marcus in June 1950, he has just entered Newark's Robert Treat college, where, like many of his Rothian predecessors, he is "the first member of our family to seek a higher education." Prior to that, he has worked beside his father the butcher, learning his portentously blood-soaked trade. The Korean War, with its bayonet-wielding Chinese, is in full swing, and the associations are neither subtle nor especially artful. Marcus has learned a life lesson from his father, as he goes about the unpleasant business of eviscerating chickens: "That's what I learned from my father and what I loved learning from him: that you do what you have to do." It is one of this slender novel's several obvious ironies that Marcus's misreading of this advice will lead to trouble.

For reasons Roth never makes sufficiently clear, Marcus's father abruptly descends into a state of considerable paranoia and becomes absolutely convinced that some terrible harm is going to befall his straight-A son. His father becomes so unbearably controlling that Marcus feels he has no choice but to quit Newark in order to put distance between the two. The Elder Messner's breakdown serves to move the narrative to its next fraught step, but it's one of Indignation's great failings that this business is both convenient and unconvincing.

Marcus finds himself at Winesburg, "a small liberal arts and engineering college in the farm country of north-central Ohio" that he selects on the basis of a brochure cover, though it's never made clear how Marcus persuades his father -- who insists on knowing his whereabouts at every moment -- to consent to such a move. But Roth is more concerned, with an obvious nod to Sherwood Anderson, with delivering Marcus into his own "Book of the Grotesque," where Roth's notion that the most dangerous places are those that seem most innocent will be played out time and time again.

Marcus's semester at Winesburg does not go well. His rigidity brings him into conflict after conflict, first with a variety of roommates, then with Olivia, whose sexual liberty he is unable to comprehend, and finally with campus authorities. Amid all this, the threat of the Korean War hangs over him and, despite his mistaken assessment of himself -- "I had a great talent for being satisfied" -- he continually frets that each new misadventure will see him expelled and sent to Korea. In altercation after altercation, Marcus is convinced he is doing what he must (as he learned from his father), but his obdurate righteousness is taken for rebellious insolence.

Although the book's action climaxes with a "panty raid," an eruption of student tomfoolery that blows up out of control and results in the death of student -- another meticulous, deliberate student who makes one foolish choice (in case the point isn't yet clear) -- the book's centerpiece is Marcus's histrionic defense of his on-campus actions to the dean of men, which draws liberally from Bertrand Russell's celebrated 1927 lecture, "Why I Am Not a Christian." The counterpoint to this interview occurs in the book's final pages, when the university president, disgusted with the behavior of his students during such serious times, delivers a lecture of his own, averring that "History will catch you in the end."

However pressing either of these arguments might be to the author, Indignation rarely feels like more than a vehicle for a device. Between sex and death and fate and chaos and honor and belief, Roth seems to be packing too much on too slender a frame, underscoring the obvious for page after page, right up to the valedictory closing line:

...the terrible, the incomprehensible way one's most banal, incidental, even comical choices achieve this disproportionate result.

Indignation is, simultaneously, an unnecessarily repetitive explication of that simple idea, and one that doesn't go nearly deeply enough to satisfy. --Mark Sarvas

Mark Sarvas' debut novel, Harry, Revised, has been sold in a dozen countries around the world. He is host of the literary blog The Elegant Variation and a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780099523420
  • Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/28/2009

Meet the Author

Philip Roth

In 1997 Philip Roth won the Pulitzer Prize for American Pastoral. In 1998 he received the National Medal of Arts at the White House and in 2002 the highest award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Gold Medal in Fiction, previously awarded to John Dos Passos, William Faulkner and Saul Bellow, among others. He has twice won the National Book Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. In 2005 The Plot Against America received the Society of American Historians’ prize for "the outstanding historical novel on an American theme for 2003-2004" and the W.H. Smith Award for the Best Book of the Year, making Roth the first writer in the forty-six-year history of the prize to win it twice.

In 2005 Roth became the third living American writer to have his works published in a comprehensive, definitive edition by the Library of America. In 2011 he received the National Humanities Medal at the White House, and was later named the fourth recipient of the Man Booker International Prize. In 2012 he won Spain’s highest honor, the Prince of Asturias Award, and in 2013 he received France’s highest honor, Commander of the Legion of Honor.

Biography

Philip Roth's long and celebrated career has been something of a thorn in the side of the writer. As it is for so many, fame has been the proverbial double-edged sword, bringing his trenchant tragic-comedies to a wide audience, but also making him a prisoner of expectations and perceptions. Still, since 1959, Roth has forged along, crafting gorgeous variations of the Great American Novel and producing, in addition, an autobiography (The Facts) and a non-fictional account of his father's death (Patrimony: A True Story).

Roth's novels have been oft characterized as "Jewish literature," a stifling distinction that irks Roth to no end. Having grown up in a Jewish household in a lower-middle-class sub-section of Newark, New Jersey, he is incessantly being asked where his seemingly autobiographical characters end and the author begins, another irritant for Roth. He approaches interviewers with an unsettling combination of stoicism, defensiveness, and black wit, qualities that are reflected in his work. For such a high-profile writer, Roth remains enigmatic, seeming to have laid his life out plainly in his writing, but refusing to specify who the real Philip Roth is.

Roth's debut Goodbye, Columbus instantly established him as a significant writer. This National Book Award winner was a curious compendium of a novella that explored class conflict and romantic relationships and five short stories. Here, fully formed in Roth's first outing, was his signature wit, his unflinching insightfulness, and his uncanny ability to satirize his character's situations while also presenting them with humanity. The only missing element of his early work was the outrageousness he would not begin to cultivate until his third full-length novel Portnoy's Complaint -- an unquestionably daring and funny post-sexual revolution comedy that tipped Roth over the line from critically acclaimed writer to literary celebrity.

Even as Roth's personal relationships and his relationship to writing were severely shaken following the success of Portnoy's Complaint, he continued publishing outrageous novels in the vein of his commercial breakthrough. There was Our Gang, a parodic attack on the Nixon administration, and The Breast, a truly bizarre take on Kafka's Metamorphosis, and My Life as a Man, the pivotal novel that introduced Roth's literary alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman.

Zuckerman would soon be the subject of his very own series, which followed the writer's journey from aspiring young artist with lofty goals to a bestselling author, constantly bombarded by idiotic questions, to a man whose most important relationships have all but crumbled in the wake of his success. The Zuckerman Trilogy (The Ghost Writer, Zuckerman Unbound, and The Counterlife) directly paralls Roth's career and unfolds with aching poignancy and unforgiving humor.

Zuckerman would later reemerge in another trilogy, although this time he would largely be relegated to the role of narrator. Roth's American Trilogy (I Married a Communist, the PEN/Faulkner Award winning The Human Stain, and The Plot Against America), shifts the focus to key moments in the history of late-20th –century American history.

In Everyman (2006) , Roth reaches further back into history. Taking its name from a line of 15th-century English allegorical plays, Everyman is classic Roth -- funny, tragic, and above all else, human. It is also yet another in a seemingly unbreakable line of critical favorites, praised by Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and The Library Journal.

In 2007's highly anticipated Exit Ghost, Roth returned Nathan Zuckerman to his native Manhattan for one final adventure, thus bringing to a rueful, satisfying conclusion one of the most acclaimed literary series of our day. While this may (or may not) be Zuckerman's swan song, it seems unlikely that we have seen the last Philip Roth. Long may he roar.

Good To Know

Before publishing his first novel, Roth wrote an episode of the suspenseful TV classic Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

A film adaptation of American Pastoral is currently in the works. Australian director Phillip Noyce (Rabbit Proof Fence; Patriot Games) is on board to direct.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Philip Milton Roth
    2. Hometown:
      Connecticut
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 19, 1933
    2. Place of Birth:
      Newark, New Jersey
    1. Education:
      B.A. in English, Bucknell University, 1954; M.A. in English, University of Chicago, 1955

Read an Excerpt

About two and a half months after the well-trained divisions of North Korea, armed by the Soviets and Chinese Communists, crossed the 38th parallel into South Korea on June 25, 1950, and the agonies of the Korean War began, I entered Robert Treat, a small college in downtown Newark named for the city’s seventeenth-century founder. I was the first member of our family to seek a higher education. None of my cousins had gone beyond high school, and neither my father nor his three brothers had finished elementary school. "I worked for money," my father told me, "since I was ten years old." He was a neighborhood butcher for whom I’d delivered orders on my bicycle all through high school, except during baseball season and on the afternoons when I had to attend interschool matches as a member of the debating team. Almost from the day that I left the store— where I’d been working sixty-hour weeks for him between the time of my high school graduation in January and the start of college in September—almost from the day that I began classes at Robert Treat, my father became frightened that I would die. Maybe his fear had something to do with the war, which the U.S. armed forces, under United Nations auspices, had immediately entered to bolster the efforts of the ill-trained and underequipped South Korean army; maybe it had something to do with the heavy casualties our troops were sustaining against the Communist firepower and his fear that if the conflict dragged on as long as World War Two had, I would be drafted into the army to fight and die on the Korean battlefield as my cousins Abe and Dave had died during World War Two. Or maybe the fear had to do with his financial worries: the year before, the neighborhood’s first supermarket had opened only a few blocks from our family’s kosher butcher shop, and sales had begun steadily falling off, in part because of the supermarket’s meat and poultry section’s undercutting my father’s prices and in part because of a general postwar decline in the number of families bothering to maintain kosher households and to buy kosher meat and chickens from a rabbinically certified shop whose owner was a member of the Federation of Kosher Butchers of New Jersey. Or maybe his fear for me began in fear for himself, for at the age of fifty, after enjoying a lifetime of robust good health, this sturdy little man began to develop the persistent racking cough that, troubling as it was to my mother, did not stop him from keeping a lit cigarette in the corner of his mouth all day long. Whatever the cause or mix of causes fueling the abrupt change in his previously benign paternal behavior, he manifested his fear by hounding me day and night about my whereabouts. Where were you? Why weren’t you home? How do I know where you are when you go out? You are a boy with a magnificent future before you—how do I know you’re not going to places where you can get yourself killed?

The questions were ludicrous since, in my high school years, I had been a prudent, responsible, diligent, hardworking A student who went out with only the nicest girls, a dedicated debater, and a utility infielder for the varsity baseball team, living happily enough within the adolescent norms of our neighborhood and my school. The questions were also infuriating—it was as though the father to whom I’d been so close during all these years, practically growing up at his side in the store, had no idea any longer of who or what his son was. At the store, the customers would delight him and my mother by telling them what a pleasure it was to watch the little one to whom they used to bring cookies—back when his father used to let him play with some fat and cut it up like "a big butcher," albeit using a knife with a dull blade—to watch him mature under their eyes into a well-mannered, well-spoken youngster who put their beef through the grinder to make chopped meat and who scattered and swept up the sawdust on the floor and who dutifully yanked the remaining feathers from the necks of the dead chickens hanging from hooks on the wall when his father called over to him, "Flick two chickens, Markie, will ya, for Mrs. So-and-So?" During the seven months before college he did more than give me the meat to grind and a few chickens to flick. He taught me how to take a rack of lamb and cut lamb chops out of it, how to slice each rib, and, when I got down to the bottom, how to take the chopper and chop off the rest of it.

And he taught me always in the most easygoing way. "Don’t hit your hand with the chopper and everything will be okay," he said. He taught me how to be patient with our more demanding customers, particularly those who had to see the meat from every angle before they bought it, those for whom I had to hold up the chicken so they could literally look up the asshole to be sure that it was clean. "You can’t believe what some of those women will put you through before they buy their chicken," he told me. And then he would mimic them: "‘Turn it over. No, over. Let me see the bottom.’ " It was my job not just to pluck the chickens but to eviscerate them. You slit the ass open a little bit and you stick your hand up and you grab the viscera and you pull them out. I hated that part. Nauseating and disgusting, but it had to be done. That’s what I learned from my father and what I loved learning from him: that you do what you have to do.

Our store fronted on Lyons Avenue in Newark, a block up the street from Beth Israel Hospital, and in the window we had a place where you could put ice, a wide shelf tilted slightly down, back to front. An ice truck would come by to sell us chopped ice, and we’d put the ice in there and then we’d put our meat in so people could see it when they walked by. During the seven months I worked in the store full time before college I would dress the window for him. "Marcus is the artist," my father said when people commented on the display. I’d put everything in. I’d put steaks in, I’d put chickens in, I’d put lamb shanks in—all the products that we had I would make patterns out of and arrange in the window "artistically." I’d take some ferns and dress things up, ferns that I got from the flower shop across from the hospital. And not only did I cut and slice and sell meat and dress the window with meat; during those seven months when I replaced my mother as his sidekick I went with my father to the wholesale market early in the morning and learned to buy it too. He’d be there once a week, five, five-thirty in the morning, because if you went to the market and picked out your own meat and drove it back to your place yourself and put it in the refrigerator yourself, you saved on the premium you had to pay to have it delivered. We’d buy a whole quarter of the beef, and we’d buy a forequarter of the lamb for lamb chops, and we’d buy a calf, and we’d buy some beef livers, and we’d buy some chickens and chicken livers, and since we had a couple of customers for them, we would buy brains. The store opened at seven in the morning and we’d work until seven, eight at night. I was seventeen, young and eager and energetic, and by five I’d be whipped. And there he was, still going strong, throwing hundred-pound forequarters on his shoulders, walking in and hanging them in the refrigerator on hooks. There he was, cutting and slicing with the knives, chopping with the cleaver, still filling out orders at seven p.m. when I was ready to collapse. But my job was to clean the butcher blocks last thing before we went home, to throw some sawdust on the blocks and then scrape them with the iron brush, and so, marshaling the energy left in me, I’d scrape out the blood to keep the place kosher.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 20 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 18, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    An odd, but engaging book

    I had never read Philip Roth prior to reading Indignation and was pleased with this novel, though I found it an odd piece of writing. In spite of his youth and "seriousness," Messner is an engaging character, if a bit histrionic at moments.

    The "I am dead" revelation was a it surprising. Maybe more astute readers than I would have seen it coming, but I did not. I don't see what it did to help the novel along. It only served to minimize the sense of foreboding that Roth had been developing up to that point.

    It's certainly worth reading, though. And I am likely going to try another Philip Roth novel very soon.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2013

    A perfect novel

    As funny and bitting as anything he has ever done, with a distinctly sad aftertaste. This easily the best of his four short novels.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 22, 2010

    Don't

    One of the worst books I've ever read I am sorry to say, depressing, listened to it in the audio version and the narrator did a good job which was the only thing that kept me tuned in.

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  • Posted May 7, 2010

    Maybe It's Just Me

    I have enjoyed some of Philip Roth's writing but I often find it a little too much and this novel fits that category. I found the novel hard to put down but at the same time I found all of the characters to be more parodies of themselves than believable. I would caution readers to consider this novel more a stury of an odd teenager than a representation of the times or the life of a Jewish teen from Newark in the 50's. That is not to imply there was no anti-semitism but I think Marcus had many unlikeable traits that were the cause of his problems, not the fact that he was Jewish.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 1, 2010

    Indignation by Philip Roth

    A stark reminder of the prejudice alive and doing well in the US post WWII. I felt the desperation of the young men of the time to escape entrapment in yet another conflict, and how university leaders maintained the status quo. The description of the "panty raid" grounded the Jewish issue in the conservative morals or our country at the time.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    A Profound and Powerful Work of Art

    While I have always loved Philip Roth, I was not prepared for the emotional impact of this brilliant novel. What starts off as a fascinating character study of a teenage boy coming of age in the 1950's under the shadow of the Korean war, becomes a razor sharp dissection of the cultural milieu of that era and, sadly, its parallels in our own. As I began reading the penultimate chapter, I had a visceral reaction. The hair on my arms stood on end, and I literally gasped. I had to read it more than once as the emotional weight of Roth's story hit me like a ton of bricks. The end is both dark and jarring. This is a novel I won't soon forget. Highly recommended.

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  • Posted November 11, 2009

    Indignation

    Heard a lot of great things about the author, but was unimpressed. Book was very "ok".

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  • Posted December 12, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Whose Indignation?

    A reader might be indignant to have purchased this book, only to be disappointed by what is a very uninvolving tale.

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  • Posted October 16, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Provocative, Entertaining and a bit Bleak

    I found this book to be an interesting character study of a college youth in the 1950's. I found that the plot in this short novel to be compelling. But don't expect to be cheered up by end of this sobering novel. But if you can handle the truth, I recommend this book.

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    Posted January 1, 2011

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    Posted August 27, 2010

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