Sunday, November 24, 2013

Review: "The Human Stain" by Philip Roth

I find it a bit hard to criticize a book by Philip Roth, a writer whose influence, success and staying power is second to none as far as American writers go. And even if I didn’t like The Human Stain, there are books out there that I like and will like (such as Everyman, which I read a few years ago, and Sabbath’s Theater, which seems to be a big one with him, which I plan on reading next year). Despite the press this books got because of the movie and the awards it got, mainly the PEN/Faulkner Award, I see why this book is not one many critics look back on fondly, following Roth’s rather gracious and humble exit from the world of writing a little bit ago. The book is more than a bot long-winded and over-written, and although the ideas it presents are still in question today, the framework Roth uses is horribly outdated. The story is a bit too simple to cover its almost 400 page length. Coleman Silk, a former dean of a liberal arts college, after being forced to retire after rather bogus charges of racism that lead, indirectly to his wife’s death, starts having an affair with Faunia Farley, an illiterate janitor at his former college, carrying around a lot of baggage and a psychotic ex-husband, who is intent on making her suffer for a past tragedy. The story, narrated by Roth’s fictitious author Nathan Zuckerman, is a bit too thin to cover the book’s length. It would have been better if it was 200 pages at the most, and the story wouldn’t have faced unnecessary roadblocks in the form of Coleman’s past. The book is set in 1998, and the time spent on the Clinton scandal to showcase the ideas about what people sacrifice on the alter of political correctness does work, but it makes the story feel really dated. But the book is funny though; a scene where Faunia’s ex is thought to have stolen her vibrartor is quite hysterical. There is probably a better place to start with Roth than this.
Rating: 4/5

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