Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Human Stain by Philip Roth

As my legions of readers know, I have recently rediscovered Philip Roth. Although I still do not appreciate the artistry of Goodbye, Columbus, I have really enjoyed several of his later works. The Human Stain has added greatly to my admiration of this fine writer.

Few writers delve into the psychology of characters the way Roth does. The intense reflection and the detailed examination of motives, actions, and consequences make for absorbing reads. As I have said many times, I believe good characters drive a good story. These characters surprise, alarm, and bring the reader deep into the psychological gymnastics we all go through, sometimes unconsciously, every day. Roth brings all these emotions, fears, joys, prejudices, and hopes right out in the open.

Stain is the second “Zuckerman” novel I have read, and by no means will it be the last. Nathan Zuckerman, the narrator, is a writer, and as revealed in the closing pages, we have read as he writes. We make discoveries along with him.

Some of the passages are long, and this novel requires a great deal of concentration as he meanders among the characters and situations. Many of these ring true on many levels. For example, I know a Delphine Roux. I have seen students complain to administration over harmless, off-hand remarks made in class. I have seen the petty jealousies and political maneuvering in the perpetual turf wars of academia.

Realism is the hallmark of Roth’s novels, and The Human Stain clearly ranks as one of his masterpieces. I see a large shelf, with all his books, in my future. Caution: Raw language throughout with graphic depictions of some sexual situations. Five stars.

--Chiron, 4/29/09

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