New Jersey

Represent: American Pastoral- Philip Roth

If I’m 100% honest, this book was a struggle to read. I don’t often put books down but this would have been one of the rare few. The introduction of the main character ‘the Swede’ went on forever, the chapters were way too long leaving you wondering when they would end & then you’re finally getting into it and it’s over! 

The obvious subject of the book is the infamous ‘American Dream’. The protagonist spends a lot of time expressing the importance of providing for his family and obsessing over the idea of ‘being American’. I get the impression that because of being a Jewish immigrant, even 3rd generation- he thinks he has more to prove to himself, his community and to society.

Between 1800 and 1900 New Jersey had a huge surge of immigrants from Europe who helped to power the industrial revolution. The city of Newark (one of the main settings for the book) was put on the map of manufacturing and excelled in the art of Tanning, producing 90% of the nations leather by 1870. By the time the glove factory has been handed down to the Swede by his father, we’re well into the 1960’s. Newark has suffered through the Great Depression of the 30’s only to be bolstered up by the second World War to endure the riots of 1967.

The social unrest was sparked after a black cab driver was injured whilst resisting arrest by two police officers. The local African-American community were dissatisfied by the lack of opportunities and the high number of law enforcement brutality incidents. By 1967 the amount of manufacturing operations had dwindled leaving many people without jobs and well below the poverty line. 

American Pastoral really highlights the struggle, for immigrants especially, to find their place in society and to pursue the American Dream. The idealistic image of the house with the white picket fence, the big shiny car and the family beach vacations. Many of  the issues brought to light are still prevalent today despite having moved forward. 

Most Read: When We Meet Again- Victoria Alexander

This book was a real surprise as the most read for 2014, the current most read is ‘Girl on the Train’ by Paula Hawkins. It seems the citizens of the Garden State have got fed up with romance and have ended up with something a little more dark. I had expected something history related seeing as many battles were fought here during the American Revolution or crime as America loves it’s cop shows but not this!

The story was a little predictable and old school but I can’t say I didn’t find it easy to read after struggling through the pages of American Pastoral. The writing was pretty comical throughout, I also enjoyed the many strong female characters which are sometime lacking in this genre. I definitely would never pick this up in a bookstore (I mean, look at the cover!) but it’s interesting to see what all those New Jersey housewives are reading…