Thursday, November 27, 2008

Philip Roth, Indignation

My, my... I'm a bit of a late convert to Philip Roth, only discovering his works (that means actually reading them) in the last few years.

He's a hell of a writer.

His characters are pretty much bastards. And Marcus Messner, the protagonist of Indignation, is really no different. But who among us -- and I guess by "us" I mean the once modestly gifted late-teenage/early-twenties male -- isn't or wasn't a bastard at some point, an arrogant, self-satisfied know-it-all with a chip on his shoulder? His sheer pig-headedness and egoism (in the more clinical sense of the word?) is discomfiting and quite off-putting.

But in some sense I suppose it's what I admire most about Roth: his willingness to stick with these nasty folks, to play out the worst (and the banally callous), to see not redemption at the end but life (and death) and the very real messiness of it all -- even when it leads to the laughable but ultimately grotesque "Great White Panty Raid of Winesburg College."

The narrative is a little more gimmicky than most; the story a rather odd throwback (mirroring the setting). Does it work? I think so. Maybe. I'm kind of... ambivalent about it (which is also the sense I get from the Gates and Kakutani reviews in The New York Times -- I do think it could make a helluva film). But I've been ambivalent about most of the Roth I've read. And I continue to pick him up and... well, I guess I'll continue to pick at and worry that inner bastard through Roth; at a somewhat safe distance.