American Pastoral won the pulitzer and boy oh boy it is deserved. This novel is a masterpiece of storytelling. Swede Luvov is a small town hero: star athlete, considerate son, professional Jewish American businessman, and married to a former Miss Jersey. By all accounts, he is living the American Dream, until his daughter tears the fabric of his family and life apart as an anti-war terrorist.
It takes us a little while to get there though, as the novel is framed as the musings of Nathan Zuckerman, a classmate of Luvov, and now author, who was friends with Luvov’s younger brother Jerry and like many, idolized “The Swede.” This framing is so well done that I checked twice to make sure this was fiction, as the beginning reads as a non-fiction account, through the lens of Zuckerman. Zuckerman learns, along with the reader, of the tragic spiral that Luvov’s life has taken. He is portrayed as almost an accomplice to his own existence: compliant to the point of paralyzation in an America that is changing quickly and at times to awful consequence.
There is so much going on here that it is hard to process, but this book is outstanding, and I found it to be enlightening, contrasting what happens here with what is going on in our current political landscape. Not to mention, reading a book set in the United States in the 1960s right after reading a book set in 1940s Germany (The Book Thief) made for interesting continuity and examination of recent history.
I found it to work well as an audiobook, though sometimes the sound quality changed so that it made the recording sound like it briefly switched to another reader. However, this was seldom enough to not be a considerable distraction.
I’m definitely going to read the next two books in what is considered the American Trilogy, but I’m going to wait a bit for the next installment as I will still be unpacking this novel for quite a bit. I’m sure that I will reread it in the future, and it has moved onto my list of favorite books, and one I will recommend ad nauseum.