American Pastoral – Philip Roth – Quotes

Some thoughts and quotes to expand a bit on my short review. The book touches on so many things and your perception of what is important in it will definitely depend on your experiences, but it is a book that moved me on many levels.

***SPOILER ALERT***I know the story is summarized at the back of the book, but the quotes may reveal a bit more details, just so you know…

„Something was on top of him that had called a halt to him. Something had turned him into human platitude. Something had warned him: You must nor run counter anything.”

“Yeah, being wrong,” Jerry said, “was unendurable to me. Absolutely unendurable.”
“And it’s easier now?”
“Don’t have to worry about it. The operating room turns you into somebody who’s never wrong. Much like writing.”
“Writing turns you into somebody who’s always wrong. The illusion that you may get it right someday is the perversity that draws you on. What else could? As pathological phenomena go, it doesn’t completely wreck your life.” – hahaha, I think we all sometimes feel being wrong is unendurable, or maybe it’s just me 😉

“It would seem that what kept Jerry going, without uncertainty or remorse and unflaggingly devoted to his own take on things, was that he had a special talent for rage and another special talent for not looking back. Doesn’t look back at all, I thought. He’s unseared by memory. To him, all looking back is bullshit-nostalgia, including even the Swede’s looking back, twenty-five years later, at his daughter before the bomb went off, looking back and helplessly weeping for all that went up in that explosion. Righteous anger at the daughter? No doubt that would have helped. Incontestable that nothing is more uplifting in all of life than righteous anger.” – righteous anger would be lovely if not for remorse that comes later, but then if (that’s a big ‘if’) we can make ourselves believe ‘all looking back is bullshit-nostalgia’ anger definitely sounds more uplifting by the minute. I sometimes wish I could just go ahead and unleash my anger, it would make things so much easier.

“The impulse is that telling is going to relieve you. And that’s why you fell awful later – you’ve relieved yourself, and if it truly is tragic and awful, it’s not better, it’s worse – the exhibitionism inherent to a confession has only made the misery worse.” – how often has that happened to you?

“The daughter who transports him out of the longed-for American pastoral and into everything that is its antithesis and its enemy, into the fury, the violence, and the desperation of the counterpastoral – into the indigenous American berserk.” – I just love the anger and emotion of this sentence.

“He is someone not set up for life’s working out poorly, let alone for the impossible. But who is set up for the impossible that is going to happen? Who is set up for the tragedy and the incomprehensibility of suffering? Nobody. The tragedy of the man not set up for tragedy – that is every man’s tragedy.” – because we’re always surprised, because we cannot lead a life constantly expecting the worst to happen, even though it probably will.

“If only he could even faintly reconstitute the undivided oneness of existence that had made for his straightforward physical confidence and freedom before he became the father of an alleged murderer.”

“Yes, alone we are, deeply alone, and always in store for us, a layer of loneliness even deeper. There is nothing we can do to dispose of that. No, loneliness shouldn’t surprise us, as astonishing to experience it may be. You can try turning yourself inside out, but all you are then is inside out and lonely instead of inside in and lonely. My stupid, stupid Merry dear, stupider even than your stupid father, not even blowing up buildings helps. It’s lonely if there are buildings and it’s lonely if there are no buildings. There is no protest to be lodged against loneliness – not all the bombing campaigns in history have made a dent in it. The most lethal of manmade explosives can’t touch it. Stand in awe not of Communism, my idiot child, but of ordinary, everyday loneliness. On May Day go out and march with your friends to its greater glory, the superpower of superpowers, the force that overwhelms all. Put your money on it, bet on it, worship it – bow down in submission not to Karl Marx, my stuttering, angry, idiot child, not to Ho Chi Minh and Mao Ts-tung – bow down to the great god of Lonelines.” – it reminded me of a quote from The God of Small things about the Small God and the Big God, because this is the complete opposite, here the Small God grows to be the great god of Loneliness. Definitely a more individualistic perspective – our misery is the most important to us because it’s ours, who cares about history. Which one feels closer to you? 

“Yes, he had likes his daughter better when she was as self-seeking as everyone else rather than blessed with flawless speech and monstrous altruism.” – ‘monstrous altruism’, yum… beautiful.

“When it comes to consolation, it is always the wrong brother, the wrong father, the wrong mother, the wrong wife, which is why one must be content to console oneself and be strong and go on in life consoling others.”

“No, you didn’t make the war. You made the angriest kid in America. Ever since she was a kid, every word she spoke was a bomb.”

“…what do you want, Seymour? You want to bail out? That’s all right too. Anybody else would have bailed out a long time ago. Go ahead, bail out. Admit her contempt for your life and bail out. Admit that there is something very personal about you that she hates and bail the fuck out and never see the bitch again. Admit that she’s a monster, Seymour. Even a monster has to be from somewhere – even a monster needs parents. But parents don’t need monsters. Bail out!”

Here are some quotes from The Human Stain

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska

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