Saturday, May 14, 2011

Amerian Pastoral -- Philip Roth ------------- 2.5 Stars

If you are not familiar with Philip Roth, he is a fairly prolific, modern day novelist who has a huge following and has written dozens of books. Many argue that the best of these books is the Pulitzer Prize winning American Pastoral (it's listed as one of the best novels in the past 25 years). Because of those reasons, and the very positive reviews of this book (not to mention the Roth name), I thought I should check it out. Lo and behold, I was pretty disappointed.

Let's get a few things straight. Roth is an incredible writer. I mean his actual prose. It's perhaps the most spectacular aspect of the book. There are points where I don't think he even changes paragraphs yet I have found myself having turned page after page as it's so engaging. His writing is so eloquent that I often find myself re-reading sentences to fully understand the meaning of the text. Here's the thing about really amazing writing... to me, it's super overrated. I have the same view with song lyrics. Who cares? If you are listening to music for deep meaning in songs, you need to look elsewhere. I mean, about 1 song out of 100 has cool/great lyrics. The rest are about dancing in clubs and straight cash. Listen to music for the sound. The rhythm, the beat; that's what matters. I have the same view of books. I can certainly appreciate great prose but I read books for a great story that includes a cool plot and recognizable characters. This is the crux of the reason why this book won the Pulitzer Prize and I gave it 2.5 stars.

But here's the weirdest thing about this novel: It gets worst the more you read it. It's weird. I don't know if I have ever read a book quite like this. I mean it started out really interesting. It pulled me in, I got excited about the story and characters. Then it just sort of started to drag. It left the interesting characters on the wayside and spent pretty much the rest of the novel focusing on the minutiae. Now, I know that's what makes novels like this great 'literature' but it bored me. It was also super frustrating to get so excited about a book and to keep reading, assuming it will get better, and it just keeps getting worst and worst. I mean, after 25% read it was like 4.5 stars, 3.5 by 50%, 3 stars by 75% and it finished with a 2.5. Err.

Overall, you have to decide what you are looking for in a book if deciding to read this. I read purely for my own entertainment value and this book did not entertain me like others. If you love great writing and a fairly decent story about the unpredictability of life, this books may be for you....just make sure you are prepared to grind it out to finish it.

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