Fiction. Literature. Short Stories. HTML: National Book Award Winner Philip Roth's brilliant career was launched when the unknown twenty-five-year-old writer won the Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship for a collection that was to be called Goodbye, Columbus, and which, in turn, captured the 1960 National Book Award. In the famous title story, perhaps the best college love story ever written, Radcliffe-bound Brenda Patimkin initiates Neil Klugman of Newark into a new and unsettling society of sex, leisure, and loss. Over the years, most of the other stories have become classics as well..
But here, oh here, is fun and perfection and a goddamn point! Highly, HIGHLY recommended. For everybody.
The book is named after the novella, which is a love story of sorts, taut with the pulls of class distinction and the couples' different ways of life. The young couple, from accross this class divide, struggle to have a normal courtship, but a power tussle continues to strain their relations. The relationship is further pressured by the conservative Jewish sentiments. Perhaps if I had never watched hindi movies with the same cliched theme, I might have been able to appreciate the story better. But it turns out that I have grown up on such movies like an average Indian, and find nothing remarkable in Mr. Roth's tale.
However, the five stories that follow almost make-up for the interest that the novella could not generate.Roth has outlined the confusion of a Jew in a modern society very well, sometimes by exaggeration. Particularly noteworthy stories were "The Conversion of the Jews," "Defender of the Faith," and "Eli, the Fanatic." Mr. Roth was widely criticised by the Jewish community who did not find the portrayal of certain Jewish characters in the book very appealing, especially in his story "Defender of faith", where a trio of devout jew draftees in the army exploit a Jewish sergeant on religious grounds.
It's perhaps unsurprising, then, that a talent for efficient cruelty also seems to have been a talent of the younger Roth himself. The last scenes of "Goodbye, Columbus" are devastating, but the last lines of some of the other stories, particularly "You Can't Tell A Man by the Song He Sings" and "Defender of the Faith" take just a sentence to cut right to the quick. Not that there aren't some stories here than hang a little looser: the tone throughout "Epstein" is comically tragic, or tragically comic, and then there's "Eli, the Fanatic." A bit of a departure for a writer that I mostly think of, for all of his marvelous writing, as a realist, this story is both more fantastical and, at the same time, to be a more obvious literary construction than most of Roth's work. Roth makes this story of a Jewish yeshiva populated with Holocaust survivors at odds with its modern, suburban Jewish neighbors seem believable without making it necessarily realistic, which is perhaps about as high a compliment as you can pay a writer. But it also seems to prefigure a lot of the contradictions about Jewish life in the United States that Roth would write about during the next fifty or so years. In some ways, that might be said of this entire book: in the same way that "Dubliners" sketched out the themes that Joyce would chase down for the rest of his writing life, Roth seems to be offering a map of the territory that was to explore in this short, early work. Characters walk difficult lines between assimilation and identity, and between identity and individuality, and in "Eli, the Fanatic," these hard choices are presented as unmistakably literal. Something tells me that Nathan Englander, whose work deals with the same themes using something like the same approach, once fell in love with it. If that's true, he can hardly be blamed. In an age when lots of story collections feel sort of padded, everything here feels essential and is, from this reader's perspective, just top-notch. A classic.
Neil and Brenda meet at the pool; she asks him to hold her sunglasses as she dives; he’s in love before she takes her first bounce. She comes from money and is college bound. He graduated three years ago, lives with his aunt who cooks and cleans all the time, and he works at the library. Mom and Dad love Brenda and older brother Ron and will do anything for their offspring, even tolerate Neil at their dining table. They have a nice summer together.
Finally, a quote from Roth, which has nothing to do with the story, or maybe it does: “A Jewish man with parents alive is a fifteen-year-old boy, and will remain a fifteen-year-old boy until they die!”
I found two other stories highly readable: Defender of the Faith, where Roth portrays Jews as self-seeking, lying and manipulative; and Eli, the Fanatic, where a lawyer is hired by an assimilated Jewish community to confront the director of a newly established Orthodox yeshiva (Jewish religious institution).
Goodbye, Columbus - 5/5
The Conversion of the Jews - 1/5
Defender of the Faith - 4/5
Epstein - 2/5
You Can’t Tell a Man by the Song He Sings - 1/5
Eli, the Fanatic - 4/5
In the main novella, hero Neil Klugman is home in Newark after two years in the army. He has finished college, is working in the library, and lives with his Aunt Gladys and Uncle Max in the old neighborhood. When Neil falls in love with Brenda Patimkin, the prototypical Jewish American Princess whose family has moved to the suburbs up the hill, Roth begins the examination of American Jewish life that continues through many of his books.
The title is a reference to Ohio State University Seniors saying goodbye to college, goodbye to Columbus, Ohio, but it also signifies growing up and leaving youth behind. Neil and Brenda’s relationship demonstrates the intensity of first love, as well as the disillusionment and emotional tempering that result.
The five short stories that follow vary in force and effect. . . .
Full review posted on Rose City Reader>.
In "Goodbye, Columbus and Five Short Stories" by Philip Roth
Favourite line from a Roth novel ("Sabbath's Theatre"): "tits...tits....tits...tits..." (okay, I admit, you have
After two years of Roth’s passing, I finally somehow managed to unearth my 40+ year old, dog-eared (make that bassett hound-eared) copy of “Goodbye, Columbus” and re-read it just before each page turned into confetti in my hands and I remembered why I liked him so much all the way through “Letting Go”, “When She Was Good” and “Portnoy's Complaint” - the 1960's. It took “Our Gang”, “The Breast” and “The Great American Novel” - in other words, fully three more of Philip Roth's books before I accepted a much needed parting of the literary ways. It's hard to give up on a writer you liked from the very start - sort of like falling out of love, but not wanting to accept that absence of feeling. In the beginning I found Roth to be demonstrably alive - his prose crackled with energy. But for me it was a case of diminishing returns. I know there are Book People here who loved his work - fine with me - he had no need of my further approbation. Philip Roth wrote one of the funniest novels I have ever read - I can pay him no higher compliment.
Of course, not getting Roth isn't a crime, it is a different taste. This implication that writers somehow have some superior moral insight the great unwashed don't have, is a nonsense. Roth's writing is very bourgeois and I understand why bourgeois people like him. I keep buying his books but I'm too lazy to read them. I read “Portnoy's Complaint” years ago and liked it. I am trying to get through some of my old books at the moment.