By Chet Yarbrough
Narrated by Ron Silver
The mythology of human perfection is exposed in American Pastoral. Its author, Phillip Roth, is awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1998. American Pastoral is included in Time’s “All-time 100 Greatest novels”. Ron Silver’s narration perfectly captures Roth’s All American hero, Seymour “Swede” Levov.
Levov is the quintessential product of the American Dream. His father is a successful glove manufacturer which affords an opportunity for the Levov family to become wealthy. The “Swede” seems blessed. He is a big screen Gary Cooper with great looks, exceptional athleticism, and respectful love for his mother and father. The “Swede” grows to manhood. He works in, and eventually takes over the family business, a business he expands and improves.
Levov is an enigma because he seems too perfect. He loves America. He loves his life. He loves his job. He is not arrogant about his abilities or his financial success. He is not mired in religious, ethnic, or racial prejudice, but—-there is always a “but”. Levov’s life is turned upside down by his daughter, a 16-year-old troubled teen, during the time President Lyndon Johnson expands America’s role in Vietnam.
Levov finishes high school, joins the Marines near the end of WWII, and returns home to marry a Miss New Jersey beauty queen. Their first child is Mary. Mary is raised in the Levov extended family; a grandfather, grandmother, father, and mother-living the American dream on a suburban 100 acre farm. Mary adores her father with an affection that competes with all relationships in her life. She grows to resent her mother and eventually rebel against her father. Mary’s rebellion crystallizes into hate of Lyndon Johnson and the role of American government and industry in Vietnam. Mary becomes a domestic terrorist, like an American bin Laden that murders innocents; without remorse and with fervent belief in ideological ends that justify any means.
The “Swede” wants to know what he has done wrong. How could he have raised a daughter that hates the country he loves? Roth plumbs the depth of human relationships, human nature, and American society to find answers; answers both probable and improbable.
For every family that has children, American Pastoral, reveals how much and how little parents can do for their children. Human beings are imperfect; children grow into their own space; they grow in concert with genetics, how they think of themselves, and how others think of them.
American Pastoral suggests Americans dream, plan, and do. But life is a muddle, a combination of plans, luck, fortune, and favor. Being as good as you can be is not enough for society. Human perfection is a myth. In American Pastoral, Roth writes a great story; Silver brings it to life.