Monday, May 3, 2021


The Power of Place

Philip Roth is much in the news, with his authorized biography having been yanked by the publisher not because Roth was a bad man, but because his biographer is said to be a bad man.  Do you get it?  I don't.

After having read "Human Stain," I have been reading "American Pastoral," which some consider his best.  The protagonist is "Swede" Levov.  (A Jew carries that nickname because of his athletic prowess.)  

Swede is a man who knows how to sacrifice.  To make his father happy, for example, he takes over the family business.  The family business is Newark Maid, manufacturer of fine gloves.  For gloves to be "fine," every step in the process must be according to plan, and Roth walks us through all of these steps.   It must have taken intense research for him to have learned about them.

It did not take intense research for Roth to be able to describe all the ins and outs of Newark, both before and after the riots of 1968 permanently burned out the core of the city, because he lived it.  He grew up in the Jewish section of Newark, and Newark can be said to be a principal character of the book.  In a critical scene, he meets his fugitive daughter Merry, who has ruined his life, hard by an old aqueduct/railroad trestle in the Ironbound Section of Newark.

I couldn't help wondering, then, whether Roth, born in 1933 and tagged always with misogyny, ever was exposed to Suzanne Vega's beautiful feminist anthem set in the very same neighborhood:

Fancy poultry parts sold here.

Breasts and thighs and hearts.

Backs are cheap, and 

Wings are Nearly Free.

I think he would totally get it.  And she him.

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