Coming of age story set in 1950’s America
About the Book
Description (courtesy of Goodreads): It is 1951 in America, the second year of the Korean War. Marcus Messner, a studious, law-abiding, intense young man from Newark, New Jersey 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 neighbourhood 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. However, life is full of unimagined chances and their potential consequences.
This is my first Philip Roth book and, based on this one, it won’t be my last.
In order to avoid the draft, Marcus must graduate from college and since he is studious, highly intelligent and diligent, this won’t be a problem, will it? That’s if he can navigate the distractions provided by room-mates and the opposite sex – not to mention complying with the rules of the conservative Winesburg College. However, Marcus’ encounter with a female student has unexpected consequences and sets off a chain of events that will change the course of Marcus’ life.
I loved the dry humour of the dialogue and the eccentric cast of characters, balancing out the darker elements of the novel – all delivered in Roth’s effortless, flowing prose. A standout scene is Marcus’ interview with Dean Caudwell which is very funny and perfectly captures the pompous nature of the Dean and the youthful arrogance of Marcus. I also have to mention the curved ball delivered by the author (in my copy, on page 54). Suddenly, you realise the book is going to go in a completely different direction and Marcus’ father’s warning to his son that ‘the tiniest misstep can have tragic consequences’ changes from seeming humorously paranoid to downright prophetic.
This book forms part of my From Page to Screen Reading Challenge and I will be posting a comparison between the book and the film separately.
Book facts: 233 pages, publication date September 2008
My rating: 4 (out of 5)
In three words: Satirical, funny, thought-provoking
Try something similar…any other Philip Roth!
About the Author
Philip Milton Roth is an American novelist who gained early literary fame with the 1959 collection Goodbye, Columbus (winner of 1960’s National Book Award), cemented it with his 1969 bestseller Portnoy’s Complaint, and has continued to write critically-acclaimed works, many of which feature his fictional alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman. The Zuckerman novels began with The Ghost Writer in 1979, and include American Pastoral (1997) (winner of the Pulitzer Prize). In May 2011, he won the Man Booker International Prize for lifetime achievement in fiction.