Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Coleman Silk has a secret, one which has been kept for fifty years from his wife, his four children, his colleagues, and his friends, including the writer Nathan Zuckerman. It is Zuckerman who stumbles upon Silk's secret and sets out to reconstruct the unknown biography of this eminent, upright man, esteemed as an educator for nearly all his life, and to understand how this ingeniously contrived life came unraveled. And to understand also how Silk's astonishing private history is, in the words of The Wall Street Journal, "magnificently" interwoven with "the larger public history of modern America." -- Vintage
I really didn't think I was going to write a review forTHE HUMAN STAIN by Philip Roth. My book club read this book for February, and it wasn't a pleasant experience for me. I'm not referring to the meeting because I thought it was a terrific one. I am referring to the hours I spent reading this novel -- the tedious, frustrating (and yes, even painful) time I had trying to complete this book.
Well, I am happy to say that I did finish this novel despite setting it down numerous times and swearing that I wouldn't pick it up again. I thought I had the perfect excuse to abandon it when my husband told me that he was going to be out of town the same night as our meeting. However, a few days later (actually only a few days before our meeting), he announced that his trip was canceled. Darn....I felt as if I had to give THE HUMAN STAIN and Mr. Roth's verbose prose another try. (I don't mean darn that his trip was canceled -- I love my husband!)
I really don't want this review to be one where I trash what many consider to be an excellent novel. Just check out the reviews on Amazon, and you will quickly see that I'm in the minority. All I'm saying is that I didn't enjoy this novel -- it just wasn't for me. There were many things that I didn't appreciate about this novel -- from the sentences that went on for almost a page, to the character development (or lack thereof), to the stereotypical characters, to the misogyny (or at least what I interpreted as that), etc.; however, I can honestly say what most upset me was the idea that I'm just not intellectual enough to appreciate a Philip Roth book. And that really gets my goat!
Despite all of my misgivings about this novel, our book club meeting was a big success -- you can read more about it here. THE HUMAN STAIN, while not an easy read for me, did bring up a some great topics for discussion as you can clearly see in the reader's guide. There are lots of references to late twentieth-century American culture, including the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal, as well as some jabs at academia. Some other themes you might want to explore include racism, the effects of war, revenge, attraction, deception, morality, and secrets. Believe me when I say that there is a tremendous amount to discuss about human nature and our motivations.
THE HUMAN STAIN definitely wasn't the book for me. In fact, I'm reluctant to even try another Philip Roth novel any time in the near future. (I'm still recovering from this one!) If you've read THE HUMAN STAIN or any of his books and enjoyed them, can you please enlighten me? I'm feeling rather dumb right now!