06 July 2010

6. Goodbye, Columbus by Philip Roth

My first experience with Philip Roth, who I have been wanting to read for so long. I'm definitely headed to the library for some more, maybe Portnoy's Complaint, or American Pastoral.

Goodbye, Columbus is a novella about the summer love affair between Neil and Brenda. And as Neil tells us the story, we realize it's also a story about the different experiences of Jewish immigrants as they get more experience points in American culture.

Neil lives with his aunt, an immigrant who still leans on her Yiddish speech patterns and vocabulary. He is done with college and has also spent a year in the Army.

Brenda's family has been here a few generations, and they have assimilated into American culture and built a successful business manufacturing sinks. She is going to Radcliffe, the woman's college of Harvard (this I did not know).

And so we have the conflict of class. Brenda and Neil don't think of it that way, they just want to hang out and have fun. Brenda's mom doesn't quite like Neil in that he's-not-good-enough-for-my-daughter way. And Neil's aunt is suspicious of Brenda's family in/with a working-class snobbery kind of way.

The writing was great: Roth has a subtle use of detail that, like Dickens, makes you realize how awkward people, or certain situations, really are. And he's also very funny. I won't copy out any text, because out of context I think it would lose some of its rich flavor.

Goodbye, Columbus is one of Roth's early works, and it won the National Book Award in 1959. It's short, too, and you should be able to read the whole thing in those quiet hours you spend drinking coffee waiting for your wife to wake up.

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