20 January 2008

American Pastoral

I finally broke down and bought a Philip Roth novel.

I keep hearing how wonderful he is. All I can say in reply is that I read "Portnoy's Complaint" once, and was underwhelmed by it. But I figured I owed him (Roth, not Portnoy) another chance.

Also, my uncle and aunt (bless them) got me a coupon for use at any Barnes & Noble as a Christmas gift this year. I used most of the value of the card to buy a non-fiction book on a subject that of course holds some interest for me but that will be unlikely to warm up any entries in this blog. So I inferred I should cut loose and use the remainder of it for something more literary.

So ... Roth it was. I bought a paperback copy of AMERICAN PASTORAL, a novel published eleven years ago.

I was the managing editor of a journal of political polemics at that time, and I edited a rave review of this book. [To be frank, I took a passage in a letter from a friend and turned it into a review with a little editing, but ... hey ... let's just say I edited it.]

Early on, Roth (or, rather, Nathan Zuckerman, the famous author who serves as the first-person narrator) recounts the plot of a novel he read as a boy called THE KID FROM TOMKINSVILLE -- a novel about baseball and a particular baseball player. We can't credit Roth with the plot. There really was such a book:


Yet the way Roth writes about the book, its illustrations, and Nathan's reactions to reading that book as a kid is a thing of beauty itself.

Here's just a bit:

"The drawings seemed conceived out of the dark austerities of Depression America. Every ten pages or so, to succinctly depict a dramatic physical moment in the story -- 'He was able to put a little steam in it,' 'It was over the fence,' 'Razzle limped to the dugout' -- there is a blackish, ink-heavy rendering of a scrawny, shadow-faced ballplayer starkly silhouetted on a blank page, isolated, like the world's most lonesome soul, from both nature and man, or set in a stippled simulation of ballpark grass, dragging beneath him the skinny statuette of a wormlike shadow."

You gotta love it.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.