Indignation by Philip Roth: A review

(Happy Labor Day! I hope you are enjoying a rest from labor today. I am resting from my blogging "labors" by featuring some of my writing from the past. In this case, it is a review of Phillip Roth's Indignation which I read and reviewed in 2009. My review was originally published on Goodreads on April 1, 2009.)

IndignationIndignation by Philip Roth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a quick read for me, first of all because it is a short novel and second because once I started reading I was hooked and found it hard to put down.

Marcus Messner is someone I know.  I strongly identified with his college experience.  Going to a faraway school to get away from an oppressive atmosphere at home, being hopelessly innocent, naive, and "out of it" once you get to that school.  Yes, I remember those feelings very well - lo, these many years later.

Marcus is an extremely dedicated student - dedicated to getting all As and graduating as valedictorian of his class.  He has internalized the lessons taught by his hard-working parents in Newark.  He is their only child (Note: I, too, am an only child.) and carries the full weight of all their hopes and aspirations.

And he loves his parents.  But in the middle of his freshman year at a local Newark college, his father began to obsess about Marcus's safety and in the end that obsessiveness became a kind of madness.  He was driving his son crazy, too, and Marcus had to get away.  In his sophomore year, he did, transferring to a college in Ohio.

There, he is matched with roommates who, it turns out, piss him off even more than his father did.  He moves twice within a few weeks, finally winding up in the most undesirable room on campus, but it is heaven to him because he is alone.

He meets a girl.  He has his first sexual experience.  (Here, I was reminded strongly of Roth's early works such as Portnoy's Complaint and Goodbye, Columbus.)  But it turns out that his new love is a very fragile vessel and destined, it seems, to break.

This is a surprising book in many ways, including the enigmatic title which comes from a quotation by Bertrand Russell. The dialogue of the main character quotes extensively from Russell's lecture "Why I Am Not a Christian." Though it has its comic moments, it is full of human tragedy.  Through it all, Roth's deft writing kept me turning those pages and it was all over much too soon.    

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