Friday, July 29, 2016

Indignation by Philip Roth: My take on the book


I've been sharing images, pairing them with paragraphs from Philip Roth's small book, Indignation, all week long. A small book which carries quite a punch. 

Our young hero, Marcus Messner, starts off his tale moaning—or should I say 'kvetching' as his 'Jewishness' is part and parcel of the story—about his overprotective father, a Kosher butcher in Newark, New Jersey. Jewishness, sex, death: those are Philip Roth's usual themes, much in evidence here. While Marcus–or Markie as his dad calls him—has enjoyed a wonderful relationship with his father for his entire life and lovingly details working together with him at the store from flicking chickens to how to kosher a chicken to washing out the pails of fat, but now that Marcus is in college his father has become a complete worry-wort and can't bear not knowing where Marcus is and what he's doing. He's terrified Marcus will do something to get himself thrown out of school and put at the front of the line to be sent to Korea. Marcus, 'a nice boy' hell bent on studying, can't stand the suffocating atmosphere and transfers to a Christian college in Pennsylvania, out from underneath his father's watchful eye.  

The campus is rife with difficulties: mandatory weekly chapel attendance—problematic not because Marcus is an observant Jew but because he is an ardent atheist, roommate trouble, and a dean who decides the transfer student needs guidance which only leaves Marcus infuriated and full of indignation. Key among Marcus' problems is girl trouble. He meets a girl—I told you briefly about the mentally unstable Olivia Hutton in a prior post—a girl who gives out blow jobs the way preschool teachers give out gold stars. Inexperienced, shocked, Marcus is thrilled by everything about Olivia, utterly bewitched. Roth doesn't tell us a lot about the girl but what he does tell us is pointed. And troubling, at least for me, to hear the girl's sexual abandon equated with deep emotional troubles and mental illness. Sometimes I think Roth just loves writing about sex so much, he just can't help himself. If any of you younger women have read the book, I'd love to hear your take on Olivia's attitude about the subject. In the 1950's world in which the novel takes place many would have called her the town pump and sneered about her easiness and obvious lack of self-esteem; I wonder what a more modern reading makes of her.

There is a surprise in the book, which occurs about 25% of the way in, which I'll let you discover for yourself, a warning which does nothing to take away the abrupt punch at the end of the novel. Short but quite devastating, especially to this mother of a 23 year old. They say writers love writing about sex and death. Philip Roth does both here, beautifully. 

The movie comes out today, I'm going to get myself to a theater asap. Can't wait to see what director James Schamus—who also wrote the screenplay—makes of Roth's little book of Indignation.




Indignation stars Logan Lerman as Marcus Messner, Sarah Gadon as Olivia Hutton, Tracy Letts (the playwright and actor) as the dean of men and Danny Burstein as Marcus' father.

Lerman is set to make another book lovers movie appearance in the long in the works The Wife, based on the book by Meg Wolitzer. The movie has been coming for years but it look like things are actually finally moving. The cast includes Lerman, Jonathan Pryce as the Nobel Prize winning author and Glenn Close as the titular Wife. IMDB promises it's slated for 2017 but so far I haven't been confident enough to slot it in 

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