Indignation

Indignation

3.3 20
by Philip Roth
     
 

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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…  See more details below

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

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.)

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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 Indignation [Roth’s] power and intensity seem undiminished . . . 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, The New York Times Book Review

“A triumph.” –USA Today

“It is Roth's virtuoso skill to couple Marcus's companionable pleasure in part-time butchering with his nightmare that the knives he wields so dexterously will be used on himself.” –The Boston Globe

“As always, the prose 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.” –O, The Oprah Magazine

“Terrific . . . there's a lovely perplexedness to the writing here.” –GQ

“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.”  –Entertainment Weekly

“The interplay between a life just begun and ended, impulse and reflection, college high jinks and eternity is what makes it resonate.”  – People, 4 out of 4 stars
 
“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

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

“Mesmerizing . . . Philip Roth’s intrepid novel of self-revelation demands to be read in one sitting. It’s that good. It’s that audacious. It’s that compelling.” –Seattle Times

“Roth, blending the bawdy exuberance of his early period and the disenchantment of his recent work, demonstrates with subtle mastery, the 'incomprehensible way one's most banal, incidental, even comical choices achieve the most disproportionate result'.” The New Yorker

“As sharply honed as one of those butcher-shop knives that haunt Marcus's dreams . . . Hard to forget.” –Newsweek

“A magnificent display of writerly talent: a lean, powerful novel with bold characters who command attention, scenes of impressive dramatic interest and comic vitality, language that blasts the reader's cozy complacency . . . and a theme that swells imperceptibly from a murmur to a satisfying roar . . . Read Indignation–read it with a ear for the naked power of Philip Roth at full tilt.”  –The New York Observer    

“Copies of Indignation, Philip Roth's ferocious little tale, ought to be handed out on college campuses 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 adolescent rage and wise enough to understand how self-destructive that rage can be.”  –Washington Post Book World

“Does anybody else writing prose today sustain a conversation with the reader as beautifully as Roth, with his whirlwind of shouts, whispers, riffs and exposition?. . . . Roth returns with ‘Indignation’ and Virtuosity.” –Oscar Villalon, Books We Like, NPR

Indignation is a glorious act of chutzpah on the part of arguably the most fearless American novelist working today.” –Fort Worth Star-Telegram

“It's that final twist of the knife that makes the book so powerful, and leaves you feeling unstrung when you put it down.” –Bloomberg News

“Roth balances the darkness with sharp, comic irony . . . In Indignation, Roth has reached back to Newark to breath new life into all the old obsessions.” –Associated Press

“Written in elegant, economical prose. . . . intensely psychological. . . . utterly engrossing.” –Times Literary Supplement (London)

“A late masterpiece. . . . Indignation is Philip Roth's best novel since The Counterlife . . . Intricately wrought, passionate and fascinating.” –Financial Times (London)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780547345307
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
09/16/2008
Sold by:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
256
Sales rank:
253,956
File size:
324 KB

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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Meet the Author

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.

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Brief Biography

Hometown:
Connecticut
Date of Birth:
March 19, 1933
Place of Birth:
Newark, New Jersey
Education:
B.A. in English, Bucknell University, 1954; M.A. in English, University of Chicago, 1955

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