American Pastoral, 1997, Phillip Roth (1933-2018)
Won the Pulitzer Prize in 1998 and was included in TIME’s List of the 100 Best Novels. Part of Phillip Roth’s American Trilogy (I Married a Communist, The Human Stain).
Swede Levov, son of a Jewish immigrant, called Swede, his being 6’3”, blond and blue eyed. He was what every red-blooded American boy in the WWII era dreamt to be – handsome, rich, superstar in three high school sports. Grows up to marry Miss New Jersey and successfully take over his father’s booming glove manufacturing business. And he lived happily ever after.
Not exactly. That’s not how Pulitzer Prize winning novels usually work. As John Lennon sang – “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.” Life, and the 1960s, happened to Swede Levov.
American Pastoral explores the life of the perfect American man, his perfect American beauty pageant-winning wife, and their perfect little daughter. That is, until The Swede’s daughter becomes a 60s radical, kills a man when she blows up a bomb in an anti-Vietnam War protest, which begins to uncover the onion layers of their life showing us what can happen to our plans when life gets in the way.
As with most great reads, we get immersed in its turbulent era (America in the 40s through the 60s) and we get to know and really care about each not-so-perfect character in this story of their not-so-perfect American dream.
The story of The Swede is the story of America, with all the warts thrown in. And besides being hugely thought provoking, and containing multi-page paragraphs as you would expect from great literature, American Pastoral will teach you everything you ever wanted to know about the glove making industry.