Finally after more than a year my reading of The American Trilogy is now complete. I liked Human Stain a lot, I absolutely loved American Pastoral, so I was excited about this one, I even delayed reading it a bit just to know I have something delicious ahead of me.
The premise is very similar as in the other two books, Nathan, our narrator, is over sixty and withdrawn from the world, but as it happens he meets his former English teacher and with that the past comes flooding back. Murray Ringold tells Nathan the true story of Ira, his brother and Nathan’s childhood hero. We get a story of a man who is torn by his passions, who gets entangled in politics and sacrifices for it his personal life, who makes one bad choice after another and is never able to fix them, a man involved in constant struggle.
Initially the book read well, but at some point I was exhausted by reading about communism, about the worker’s struggle, about Ira’s struggle between his worker roots and the glamorous life he achieved. Now when I write those summaries it feels interesting, but in the book all of those really interesting issues are very drawn out, to a point of becoming boring. I was very curious about this book, because coming from an ex-communist country myself I do not have the full awareness of the whole witch-hunt that happened during years of McCarthy, even now in history classes we’re too concerned with our struggle with the communism and repressions that our countries had to go through to spend more than 15 min on what was going on at the same time in US, goes to show how subjective history always is. I did found this aspect of the book fascinating, because the measures used back then by the American government were the same ones Stalin used, minus the violence, but the smear campaigns, having no need for evidence, tainting people by association, this is the core of communistic politics and managing the society. So many years later I find it ironic that on both sides of Iron Curtain exactly the same methods were applied, almost as if McCarthy and Stalin exchanged notes and ‘best practices’.
I found Ira’s personal struggle hard to sympathize with, probably because I simply could not understand why he goes through with it, his motivations didn’t ring true. Murray on the other hand seemed a more realistic character, an older brother keen on protecting his lost younger sibling, ready to sacrifice a lot if not everything and holding no grudge, but also able to confess his greatest secret and admit that in this exact moment his life went wrong, that he shouldn’t have done what he did and that he spent the rest of his life trying to play down and prevent the consequences, stopping things from getting out of hand.
Again, when I write about it it feels like an interesting book, but when I read it it was a struggle and not one well rewarded in my opinion. I missed the rage of American Pastoral, the violent accusation, I felt like all I read was one big moan from someone who gave up, there was no fight left, just regret. I feel it could have been a lot better book.
Have you read it? Did you like it? Did I miss anything about this book? What other books by Roth would you recommend?