Sunday, March 07, 2010

THE HUMAN STAIN by Philip Roth (2001)

Having been so disappointed by THE HUMBLING, I reached for an earlier Roth novel to remind myself what it was that I so admire about his writing.

THE HUMAN STAIN follows that tragic (though not unexpected) trajectory of Coleman Silk, an aging classics professor who is forced to retire for allegedly racist comments he makes in one of his classes. The irony of this dismissal is not lost on Coleman or on the reader who quickly discovers the heart of Silk's secret that he has protected for 50 years.

There are the predictable Roth fixations like aging sexuality and contemporary American politics (it is the height of the White House scandal involving Monica Lewinsky and then-president Bill Clinton) that keep the plot simmering, but more importantly Roth unravels his protagonist's tragic self-awareness.

Nadine Gordimer called THE HUMAN STAIN Roth's "best novel," because in it "the impact of society on himself and the people around him, world contemporary mores, beliefs, prejudices, have come to full realization."

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