When She Was Good

by Philip Roth

Paperback, 1995




Vintage (1995), Edition: Rei Int, 320 pages


In this funny and chilling novel, the setting is a small town in the 1940s Midwest, and the subject is the heart of a wounded and ferociously moralistic young woman, one of those implacable American moralists whose "goodness" is a terrible disease. When she was still a child, Lucy Nelson had her alcoholic failure of a father thrown in jail. Ever since then she has been trying to reform the men around her, even if that ultimately means destroying herself in the process. With his unerring portraits of Lucy and her hapless, childlike husband, Roy, Roth has created an uncompromising work of fictional realism, a vision of provincial American piety, yearning, and discontent that is at once pitiless and compassionate.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Sean191
What a work! This was the first book I read by Roth. My parents had it in their library as long as I can remember and I ended up with it when I moved. This book has the honor of being probably one of the highest on the list of books I disliked. Actually, disliked it a little weak. I hated this
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book... and yet I'm giving it 3 1/2 stars?

I hated the book because the heroine was horrible. Roth's talent wasn't horrible though. In fact, I found myself so mad at the character that I was mad at Roth for being so talented to make me feel that strongly about a fictitious person. Hence, I hated the book, because it was well-written when presenting a despicable character!
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LibraryThing member Whaddney
A very interesting work. The focus of the book is Lucy, a ferociously moralistic young woman in 1940s small town America. Defining herself in opposition to her alcoholic father, she has grown to believe that she is the only truly moral fighter against a bad world. Roth brilliantly uses her
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absolutist and pitiless gaze to explore the flawed but well-meaning characters around her. In opposition to this never-endingly harsh point of view, we are drawn into compassionately engaging with their (and our) human failings. As the book progresses and Lucy's self-imposed social isolation worsens, these characters retreat into a background against which Lucy rails in an increasingly hopeless monologue against all around her. Occasionally, she seems to show flashes of understanding of her central role in her husband's and family's struggles, but these are quickly hidden by her inability to see any good in her father.

Loved it.
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LibraryThing member evilmoose
Not an easy read, with so many characters behaving so horribly to each other so much of the time. Lucy's story felt more like it was about depression and mental illness than anger and morality though, and I couldn't help but feel sympathy for her, even when she was at her worst and most emotionally
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abusive. She really needed help, but instead everything just became worse for her, and all of those around her.
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LibraryThing member jeffome
This is my second Roth and I have to say he captivates me immediately with his writing style, and i feel myself drawn swiftly into a story into which very little is happening, yet i did not want to stop reading. Lots of stuff in this about moral right and wrong versus common sense 'right and wrong'
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and the utter chaos families can inflict on each other in often self-centered attempts to do what is 'right.' Lots of enabling goes on in this that ultimately allows the turmoil to continue, and a tremendous amount of denial and hiding of truths (1960's suburban culture) that really causes the most destruction. In spite of that somewhat negative outlook, i liked it quite a bit.
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