Monday, October 13, 2008
Probably the best book review I have read recently was the New York Times Book Review's take on Philip Roth's new novel, Indignation, which, the reviewer, David Gates (probably not the guy from Bread), tells us in the very first sentence, drops a big surprise on the reader about a quarter of the way through. I mean "best" in the sense of "most likely to get me to read the book," because I, already inclined toward any new Roth that comes along, immediately stopped reading the review and started thinking about getting a copy of the book in my hands, much the same way that I wanted to see The Sixth Sense when I heard it had a massive twist ending. (Alas, I figured that out long before the film ground to a halt, which makes it less fun.)
So, having read literally just one paragraph worth of the review, I went out and bought the book - the first one I ever downloaded to my new Amazon Kindle, the primary virtue of which is that you can get brand-new, first-edition hardcover books for the low, low price of $9.99. And I can tell you that the surprise is quite jarring, and satisfying, although I have no idea why Roth felt it necessary to slide it in a quarter of the way through. Then again, I felt that American Pastoral was the most haphazardly organized great book I've ever read, with scenes and information presented in ways that seemed to me to be not just random but undercutting the thrust of the book - I can't remember what the very end of the book built up to, but I do remember it was something trivial had almost nothing to do with the gravity of what had gone before. I'm tempted to go back and read it again just to see what the purpose of the structure was, because I'm sure Roth must have had something in mind there.
At any rate, I finished Indignation tonight, marveling at the way Roth kept the pages turning in a book that has very little in the way of a plot, just the story of a Jewish kid from Newark who goes to a small college in Ohio in 1951 and gets himself in all kinds of trouble (one of the book's messages is, assuredly, steer clear of the goyim, and I find it hard to argue against that advice). Nevertheless, I couldn't put it down, or, since I was reading it in a Kindle, turn it off. Now I get to go back and finish that review.