Join our host David Hartmann and fellow Columbia alumni as the book club discusses Philip Roth’s 1998 Pulitzer Prize-winning American Pastoral, selected by club member Elizabeth Shapiro.
“American Pastoral is more than an examination of virtue, more than an attack on the delusoriness of liberal good intentions. Roth means it also to be a portrait of America. It moves gracefully from one quintessential American setting to another, from factory floor to rolling hills, from beauty pageant to high-school reunion. Conversations turn on standard American themes, from assimilation to athleticism, from business ethics to sexual fidelity. Characters correspond to familiar American types, including wasp gentry, old-style Jewish liberals, and therapeutic intellectuals armed with fashionably advanced views. Historical markers—the Second World War, Vietnam, Joseph McCarthy, race riots, Weathermen, and so on—routinely identify the public landscape within which Americans of the pertinent generations move. The novel is eloquent in its evocation of vanished American neighborhoods such as Jewish Newark, and it allows characters to be sweetly or fiercely defensive about “what this country’s all about.” – Robert Boyers