Goodbye, Columbus, by Philip Roth 50

I had to purge my books again because my TBR bookcase is overflowing.  I have it down to a full seven shelves and four additional piles.  During that mini-project, it occurred to me that I haven’t read any Philip Roth this year.  Roth is one of the authors that I like enough to try everything that he has written, so I buy anything with his name on it when I can find it for a dollar.  This is why I have so many unread books.

Goodbye, Columbus was his first book.  It is a novella and five short stories.  The novella was a coming-of-age romance across the social classes.  Neil was a Rutgers graduate from Newark that worked in the library and Brenda was a Radcliffe student spending the summer at the country club.  They had a lovely summer that ended with his spending two weeks with her family, at the end of which is a wedding.  Her brother married his pregnant girlfriend.  Then Brenda goes back to school.

In between there were several Battle of the Sexes conversations, challenging conventions and some of what it meant to be Jewish in an upwardly mobile post-war America.  I was particularly interested in one character’s comment (it might have been Neil) that African American families moved into neighborhoods in Newark that the Jewish immigrants vacated once they had made some money.  I have heard that more recently as a sociological commentary.  The theory, if I remember correctly, was that the Jewish community might have been a bridge to build better “race relations” because they came from the same place – neighborhoods and economics – as many African Americans, but it never materialized.

I found it all very interesting until the end.  SPOILERS:

They break up because Brenda left her diaphragm in her house and her mother found it.  Her parents demanded that she break up with that evil boy.

Really?  It didn’t once occur to her to say, “Hey, Mom.  At least he didn’t knock me up like my brother and what’s-her-name that got married five minutes ago in your own backyard.”

So I guess that part is just dated.   And not in a way that gives us any new insight into anything.

The rest of the stories were good.  I particularly liked one where a boy is challenging his rabbi to explain why, if God can do anything, he couldn’t have made Mary produce the baby Jesus without having intercourse.  I remember my friend Noah telling me that Judaism encourages people to study the Torah and ask questions without relying solely on faith.  The rabbi didn’t have a good answer for the kid, and drama ensues.

I am in the middle of two other books right now, with a third for my book club that I need to start.  So I doubt that I will finish anything else before the end of the year.  I might just start working on a 2010 Books and Reading Recap.

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