Thursday, October 23, 2008


Indignation by Philip Roth

By Edward Copeland
Philip Roth was born in 1933 and his first novel-length fiction, Goodbye Columbus, was published in 1959. Nearly 50 years since its publication, Roth continues to be one of America's most prolific and greatest novelists and as evidenced by his latest work, Indignation, neither his output nor his talent shows any sign of slowing down.

What's even more amazing than Roth's output is that he doesn't seem to repeat himself. Indignation is basically the first person 1950s coming-of-age tale of one Marcus Messner, navigating the path from child to adulthood and fleeing the nest as his father grows more unbearable to attend his second year of college at a formerly religious school in Winesburg, Ohio, far from his Jersey environs.

However, the story is more complicated than that: About one-fourth of the way through the novel, Roth reveals that Marcus is telling his tale from the afterlife, where one's life passes in front of you for eternity.

Even removing that aspect and the time-specific setting though, people of all ages will recognize what Marcus is going through, that time when all sorts of oats must be sowed, when principles must be tested, even when they come at a cost.

The cast of characters populating the 1950s college campus will probably be familiar to anyone who has gone to college at any time.

What's also new about Indignation when compared with other Roth works is an underlying sweetness. This isn't the vulgar comedy of a Portnoy's Complaint, it's a short, taut and touching tale.

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