But shocking, intensely dramatized events precipitate Silk's crisis. He remarks of two students who never showed up for class, "Do they exist or are they spooks?" They turn out to be black, and lodge a bogus charge of racism exploited by his enemies. Then, at 71, Viagra catapults Silk into "the perpetual state of emergency that is sexual intoxication," and he ignites an affair with an illiterate janitor, Faunia Farley, 34. She's got a sharp sensibility, "the laugh of a barmaid who keeps a baseball bat at her feet in case of trouble," and a melancholy voluptuousness. "I'm back in the tornado," Silk exults. His campus persecutors burn him for it--and his main betrayer is Delphine Roux.
In a short space, it's tough to convey the gale-force quality of Silk's rants, or the odd effect of Zuckerman's narration, alternately retrospective and torrentially in the moment. The flashbacks to Silk's youth in New Jersey are just as important as his turbulent forced retirement, because it turns out that for his entire adult life, Silk has been covering up the fact that he is a black man. (If this seems implausible, consider that the famous New York Times book critic Anatole Broyard did the same thing.) Young Silk rejects both the racism that bars him from Woolworth's counter and the Negro solidarity of Howard University. "Neither the they of Woolworth's nor the we of Howard" is for Coleman Silk. "Instead the raw I with all its agility. Self-discovery--that was the punch to the labonz.... Self-knowledge but concealed. What is as powerful as that?"
Silk's contradictions power a great Philip Roth novel, but he's not the only character who packs a punch. Faunia, brutally abused by her Vietnam vet husband (a sketchy guy who seems to have wandered in from a lesser Russell Banks novel), scarred by the death of her kids, is one of Roth's best female characters ever. The self-serving Delphine Roux is intriguingly (and convincingly) nutty, and any number of minor characters pop in, mouth off, kick ass, and vanish, leaving a vivid sense of human passion and perversity behind. You might call it a stain. --Tim Appelo
Philip Roth's The Human Stain is an excellent example of what T.S. Eliot described in his essay, "Tradition and the Individual Talent. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Michael Wells Glueck
I had seen the film, but obviously, the book has more depth and is even more satisfying. I chose this book for my book club because it has multiple layers and explores contemporary... Read morePublished 11 months ago by brigitte s
Great quality PDF/book, came into my kindle account right away. However did not really enjoy the book, found it quite boringPublished 23 months ago by liz
This was my first - and probably last - Philip Roth novel. I bought this novel for two reasons. 1) I was in a foreign country and there was not a lot of English language novels... Read morePublished on March 8 2009 by NorthVan Dave
In short, but expansive descriptions, Roth takes us inside the psyche of his characters and reveals in the process much about our American selves.
Read it if you dare.
This is a beautiful, wrenching novel; just what you'd expect of Roth. I think it also might be his most accessible work. Read morePublished on July 12 2004
This is a story about the human condition, about each of us being trapped -- trapped ironically by intensely following our own earthly dreams and ambitions -- in a tangled,... Read morePublished on July 12 2004 by Daniel Biezad
This is a beautiful,intricate story, beautifully and intricately told, about who we are in America at the dawn of the 21st century. Read morePublished on June 13 2004 by mulcahey
Roth is, perhaps, this country's greatest master of the written word. His style is unparalleled and a privilege to read and study. Read morePublished on April 27 2004 by Marc Bernier