Philip Roth’s American Pastoral was one of my favorite reads of 2017, Pulitzer winning novels rarely let me down, and this was no exception. I did the audio of this book, and was riveted by the writing and the story. So, I had the second of his The American trilogy in my To Read pile when a wonderful CBR Book Exchange buddy gifted it to me…two year ago? Three? I’ve had it for a minute, but I decided this was the year! They say you can’t go home again, and I think that’s been my experience with this book, but it was very very good.
Roth captures the frenzy and treachery of McCarthyism in its heyday through chronicling the rise and fall of Ira Ringold, once beloved roughneck and radio star, through the witch hunt and disastrous all-consuming marriage, and political raving that was his downfall. “I Married a Communist” is in fact the title of the book his estranged wife ghostwrites in a last attempt to put the nail in the coffin, in my opinion, though of course her narrative tells a different tale.
The story is framed similarly to American Pastoral, in that all the action has already happened and two of the key players are reminiscing well after the fact, a compelling and engaging narrative device. Gingold’s brother Murray, a retired school teacher, is essentially monologuing to Nathan Zuckerman, who was once under Ira’s political wing, and a former student of Murray. Nathan plays his own role in the story of Ira’s life, but as a teenager at the time, he wasn’t privy to all the details and with the passage of time has a need to understand how it all fell down.
It took me a little longer to get into, it’s quite dense, and I don’t think I had my head on right for this kind of book, but once I really hunkered down I was taken in. I think I probably would have enjoyed it more as I did the first one in audio format, which is what I think I’ll switch back to for the end of the trilogy. This book is haunting and somehow captures the past while also being just as relevant in the politically charged present.