Friday, December 4, 2009

Indignation (by Philip Roth)...

Set in 1951 the second year of the Korean war, a studious, intense youngster from Newark, Marcus Messner, begins his sophomore year of college at the conservative campus of Winesberg College in Ohio. Meanwhile his father, the sturdy, hardworking, neighborhood butcher, seems to have gone mad - mad with fear and apprehension and worry of the dangers of adult life, the dangers of the world, the dangers he sees in every corner for his beloved son.

Before worry consumed him, this was the father seen through the son's eyes:

"You know Kosher meat has to be washed every three days. My father would take a whisk broom with a bucket of water and wash all the meat down. But sometimes you had a Jewish holiday, and though we ourselves weren't strictly observant, we were Jews in a Jewish neighborhood, and what's more, kosher butchers and so the store was closed. And one Jewish holiday, my father told me he forgot. Say the passover Seder was going to be on a Monday and a Tuesday, and he washed the meat on the previous Friday. He would have to come back on Monday or Tuesday to do it again, and this one time he forgot. Well, nobody knew he'd forgotten, but he knew, and he would not sell that meat to anyone. He took it all and he sold it at a loss to Mueller, who had a non-kosher butcher store on Bergen Street. Sid Mueller. But he would not sell it to his customers. He took the loss instead."

But Marcus has to try to find his own way. A way to navigate the worrisome waters of Indignation, of "ass-kissing and apologizing", of "lunatic piety, but "what else could he do, like the Messner that he was, but ... bang his fist on the Dean's desk and tell him for a second time, "Fuck you"?'

And so having thus lost his student defrment ...

"... that was it for the butcher's son, dead three months short of his twentieth birthday - Marucs Messner 1932 - 1952 - the only one of his classmates unfortunate enough to be killed in the Korean War, which ended with the signing of an armistice agreement on July 27, 1953, eleven full months before Marcus, had he been able to stomach chapel and keep his mouth shut, would have received his undergraduate degree from Winesberg college - more than likely as class valedictorian - and thus have postponed learning what his uneducated father had been trying so hard to teach him all along; of the terrible, the incomprehensible way one's most banal, incidental, even comical choices achieve the most disproportionate result.".

A beautiful book.

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