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Adventures in Writing, Reading & Book Culture

Books Read Lately: Roth, Murdoch, Updike

It seems like I’ve used these names before in this column of the last year or so. Okay, paint me a guilty primrose, or magenta (wink-wink, Asia!) …

These authors have lots to say and the imagination to tell what that is — pain, stupidity, sex, women & men, love & livid hate, all the great things in life! — in stories that show people at their worst or near-best.

The Plot Against America by Philip Roth

What would have happened to America, and American Jews, if Charles Lindberg had become president as WWII raged in 1940? Roth uses historical and fictional people to realize a potential firestorm for liberty and the conscience of a nation. And Roth takes all this in from the eyes of a nine-year-old boy living in Newark, NJ. This is significant because the wonder of life, and awareness of society’s realities, begin to intersect at this age. This counter-factual history has basis in reality, woven into the tapestry of the common citizen’s hopes and barriers.

The Philosopher’s Pupil by Iris Murdoch

A cast of misfits and near-do-wells, eminent minds and vengeful hearts, makes this story of a small spa town in Surrey a comedy of errors, a drama of passions, and nexus of past and present in full fire. When the famous scholar and teacher returns home, everyone in town wonders if this will be their chance to rub elbows with the greatest mind in modern philosophy, and one man, the pupil, wants validation. But the philosopher has other ideas.

Rabbit at Rest by John Updike

The forth (and final) book in the life of Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom has a consistency with its previous books (one book for each decade of this “life” … beginning in 1959-60) that makes reading the quartet a lasting and thoroughly gripping saga of an American family. Here, Rabbit is retired from the car sales business, and enjoys half-year “rest” in Florida. But his fuck-up son drags Harry back into the business, and things unravel from there. But this is Rabbit Angstrom, whose exploits on the basketball court in his high-school salad days has given him ways to cope, and his duck/dodge/hide attitude towards life moves the story from hilarity to pityingly foolish moves to put a house back together.


What Beauty is my newest novel, a story of art, obsession and ego. Read an excerpt here. It’s available as an ebook, too.

The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.

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