Grounded in outmoded attitudes about class and distractingly highlighted by outmoded attitudes about race, Alice Adams has not aged well. In his 1922 Pulitzer winner, Booth Tarkington presents a heroine striving to climb the short social ladder of her Midwestern city using only her charms and well-rehearsed mannerisms.
Watching Alice struggle is painful. She has self-awareness sufficient to know she is doing things wrong, but lacks the tools to do them right. And it never seems that the game is worth the candle.
Finally, after watching Alice dither for most of the book, circumstances force her to face reality and make some difficult but intelligent decisions. The book ends on a gloriously hopeful note, which is the most redeeming feature of the story.
Also posted on Rose City Reader.
Philip Roth won the 1960 National Book Award for his first book, Goodbye, Columbus, a collection of five short stories and the title novella. He went on to create an incredible body of work – building on many themes introduced in Goodbye, Columbus – publishing 30 books to date with another on the way.
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.
Based on a true story, The Fixer is the story of a Russian Jew who, in the early 1900s, is unjustly accused of murdering a Christian boy. Bernard Malamud’s 1966 novel won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.
Yakov Bok has a hard luck life as a handyman, or fixer, in the Jewish Pale of Settlement. Although political reforms following the 1905 revolution gave Jews new freedoms and political clout, life in the Pale had not improved. After his childless wife abandons him for a goy, Yakov leaves the shtetl for Kiev, where he ends up working in, and living above, a Christian-owned brick factory. With an assumed name, no papers to allow him to live in that part of the city, and anti-Jewish sentiments on the rise, Yakov is headed for trouble. . . .
(Read the rest of this review on Rose City Reader.)