Indignation Paperback – Sep 8 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Roth's brilliant and disconcerting new novel plumbs the depths of the early Cold War–era male libido, burdened as it is with sexual myths and a consciousness overloaded with vivid images of impending death, either by the bomb or in Korea. At least this is the way things appear to narrator Marcus Messner, the 19-year-old son of a Newark kosher butcher. Perhaps because Marcus's dad saw his two brothers' only sons die in WWII, he becomes an overprotective paranoid when Marcus turns 18, prompting Marcus to flee to Winesburg College in Ohio. Though the distance helps, Marcus, too, is haunted by the idea that flunking out of college means going to Korea. His first date in Winesburg is with doctor's daughter Olivia Hutton, who would appear to embody the beautiful normality Marcus seeks, but, instead, she destroys Marcus's sense of normal by surprising him after dinner with her carnal prowess. Slightly unhinged by this stroke of fortune, he at first shuns her, then pesters her with letters and finally has a brief but nonpenetrative affair with her. Olivia, he discovers, is psychologically fragile and bears scars from a suicide attempt—a mark Marcus's mother zeroes in on when she meets the girl for the first and last time. Between promising his mother to drop her and longing for her, Marcus goes through a common enough existential crisis, exacerbated by run-ins with the school administration over trivial matters that quickly become more serious.... The terrible sadness of Marcus's life is rendered palpable by Roth's fierce grasp on the psychology of this butcher's boy, down to his bought-for-Winesburg wardrobe. It's a melancholy triumph and a cogent reflection on society in a time of war. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
“In Indignation [Roth’s] power and intensity seem undiminished . . . Of all Roth's recent novels, it ventures farthest into the unknowable. In his unshowy way, with all his quotidian specificity and merciless skepticism, Roth is attempting to storm heaven–an endeavor all the more desperately daring because he seems dead certain it's not there.” –David Gates, The New York Times Book Review
“A triumph.” –USA Today
“It is Roth's virtuoso skill to couple Marcus's companionable pleasure in part-time butchering with his nightmare that the knives he wields so dexterously will be used on himself.” –The Boston Globe
“As always, the prose is well built–sinewy and graceful–and, as always, the wit is as sharp as a German knife. There are simply no novels by Roth in which you cannot detect the hand of a master.” –O, The Oprah Magazine
“Terrific . . . there's a lovely perplexedness to the writing here.” –GQ
“He is a master. And the short form serves the story: The shocking rush from this book comes from watching Roth expertly and quickly build up to a half-dozen final pages that absolutely deliver the kill.” –Entertainment Weekly
“The interplay between a life just begun and ended, impulse and reflection, college high jinks and eternity is what makes it resonate.” – People, 4 out of 4 stars
“Of how many writers can it be said that they're still producing some of their best work well into their 70s? With [Indignation], his 24th novel, Philip Roth proves beyond any dispute that he deserves to be counted in that select group.” –BookPage
“Mr. Roth is a master magician who can make the same old rabbits do new tricks.” –The New York Sun
“Mesmerizing . . . Philip Roth’s intrepid novel of self-revelation demands to be read in one sitting. It’s that good. It’s that audacious. It’s that compelling.” –Seattle Times
“Roth, blending the bawdy exuberance of his early period and the disenchantment of his recent work, demonstrates with subtle mastery, the 'incomprehensible way one's most banal, incidental, even comical choices achieve the most disproportionate result'.” –The New Yorker
“As sharply honed as one of those butcher-shop knives that haunt Marcus's dreams . . . Hard to forget.” –Newsweek
“A magnificent display of writerly talent: a lean, powerful novel with bold characters who command attention, scenes of impressive dramatic interest and comic vitality, language that blasts the reader's cozy complacency . . . and a theme that swells imperceptibly from a murmur to a satisfying roar . . . Read Indignation–read it with a ear for the naked power of Philip Roth at full tilt.” –The New York Observer
“Copies of Indignation, Philip Roth's ferocious little tale, ought to be handed out on college campuses along with condoms and tetanus shots . . . Here's a novel to be witnessed as an explosion from an author still angry enough to burn with adolescent rage and wise enough to understand how self-destructive that rage can be.” –Washington Post Book World
“Does anybody else writing prose today sustain a conversation with the reader as beautifully as Roth, with his whirlwind of shouts, whispers, riffs and exposition?. . . . Roth returns with ‘Indignation’ and Virtuosity.” –Oscar Villalon, Books We Like, NPR
“Indignation is a glorious act of chutzpah on the part of arguably the most fearless American novelist working today.” –Fort Worth Star-Telegram
“It's that final twist of the knife that makes the book so powerful, and leaves you feeling unstrung when you put it down.” –Bloomberg News
“Roth balances the darkness with sharp, comic irony . . . In Indignation, Roth has reached back to Newark to breath new life into all the old obsessions.” –Associated Press
“Written in elegant, economical prose. . . . intensely psychological. . . . utterly engrossing.” –Times Literary Supplement (London)
“A late masterpiece. . . . Indignation is Philip Roth's best novel since The Counterlife . . . Intricately wrought, passionate and fascinating.” –Financial Times (London)
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Marcus Messner announces on page 54 that he is dead (this is no great spoiler, believe me.) The dead narrator is a time-honored narrative strategy in film noir (see Sunset Boulevard (Special Collector's Edition) and the novels of Jim Thompson, especially Savage Night) and it's interesting to see how Roth uses it. Although there may be an alternative explanation for Marcus' state; check the chapter titles. As he tells his story we learn how he came to die. Practically driven out of his home by his loving but suddenly paranoid kosher butcher father, he flees to go to college in the same town as Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio (Signet Classics). The smart but inexperienced boy finds himself way over his head. He is flummoxed by a beautiful girl he dates and is unable to tolerate either a flamboyant gay roommate or the strictly conservative college administration with its Christian affiliation. Instead of laughing it off and making the best of it, as apparently Roth in real life was able to at Bucknell, Marcus goes to war with his surroundings. His private mantra becomes the Chinese national anthem he learned in grade school with its refrain "indignation, arise!" And in a hideous irony it is the Chinese army that butchers Marcus on a hill in Korea some months later.
This is a remarkable book: a terrible tragedy with farce, a funny book where the laughs catch in your throat. It once again displays Roth's famous psychological toughness; no one is let off the hook here. And Roth plays fair; although he displays what is coming to be his obvious disdain for religion of all kinds, he shows Marcus playing a role in his own destruction through the kid's own intolerance and pride. Although the president of the college is a Republican political hack (as Roth sees it), the author lets him deliver the theme of the novel in a thunderous speech near the end of the book: you may try to hide from history: but like Jonah inside the whale, it will find you.
The ending caught me by surprise--and the sheer irony of it all reminded me of life itself--no matter what happens, or what we do, life just marches on... Sometimes in the way we least expect it.
Great book, would certainly recommend.