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A disappointing end to a trilogy.
am 24. Mai 2000
Philip Roth's Human Stain shocked me, not with its subject-matter, which I think is by now well known, but by its often amateurish construction. If I didn't know the author's name, I would think I was reading a first novel, one that showed promise but whose author clearly needed time to grow. The characters in this book feel more like ideas than humans. We are told by the author, or rather the narrator, Nathan Zuckerman, what they are like rather than being shown. They carry none of the intense aura of flesh and blood that such recent Roth creations as Merry Levov and Mickey Sabbath did. His main villains are, in fact, nearly ludicrous caricatures: an angry Vietnam veteran suffering from PTSD, and an angry, lonely, 29-year-old female professor of French. While the plot is quite interesting, I never felt any kinship with any of the actors in the drama, and thus found it a struggle to continue reading at times. Roth, of course, can still weave together lyrical, beautful paragraphs, but in this particular case I often found myself wondering to what end. This is surprising to me, particularly as I count Roth among my favorite authors, and consider his work of the nineties to be by and large brilliant. I particularly loved American Pastoral, Operation Shylock, and Patrimony, and also had a warm spot for Sabbath's Theater. I Married A Communist seemed a drop-off to me, but nowhere nearly as distressing as that of the Human Stain. Here's hoping a better novel comes out in 2001.