Twenty years ago Bill C. in my friends list suggested I read Philip Roth. I don't know why it took me so long to get around to it, Bill. A lot amazed me here. A lot. I read a Philip Roth quote somewhere in which Roth praised Jonathan Franzen. I can see that. From what I've read, both of them write ambitious books that attempt to say something about our/their times, the Great American Novel genre. One reason this story interested me is because Roth is older and I enjoyed learning about an earlier time (the 40s and 60s) and place (New Jersey) and Roth's perspective on it, especially because he sees things differently I think than those contemporaries of his who I know personally.
As often happens in a great book, I had a great time thinking about how people haven't really changed over the years, though circumstances and situations do make a difference and maybe I learned a little bit about why. There were a few digressions about glove making that did not bother me at all. I loved those details. I also loved the non-linear way the story was told. Roth inserts a 60-something writer narrator into the story who bumps into a man, Swede, who had been a star athlete at his high school. The author/narrator is part of the story at the beginning. Later he disappears as he shares what he learns and what he seems to speculate about Swede's life, mainly Swede's first marriage and what happens to it after his daughter, Merry, becomes a teenager who decides to blow up a post office in protest of the Vietnam War.
Roth can write pages of engrossing exposition and "scenes" that contains flashbacks that result in the story returning to an event or situation that got started pages earlier, all without causing any confusion or loss of interest. For me, this book was a page turner. I was completely caught up in the Swede's predicament and Roth's presentation of America at a time when white Catholics and white Protestants considered each other the other. That's one reason I ended up giving it four stars instead of five. After a lot of build-up, the literary ending disappointed me.
Maybe I've been reading too much genre fiction lately...