Saturday, September 26, 2015

Purity – Purely Dazzling

With Updike now gone, and Roth no longer writing, the baton of “Great American Novelist” has been passed to Jonathan Franzen.  After all, he was anointed as such by Time Magazine after the publication of his last novel, Freedom.  Sure, there are other important American novelists; John Irving, Anne Tyler, Richard Russo, Joyce Carol Oats, to name but a few.  But Franzen happens to stand out, although John Irving also merits such consideration.  Irving is the more prolific and they share a Dickensian perspective on character development and social commentary.  These are writers of substance and so when Franzen’s Purity was published, I made sure I was first on Amazon’s list to receive a copy – it was even delivered on a Sunday.

I wish I had had the time to simply sit down and read it through in a couple of days.  Instead, my usual routines encroached as well as my propensity to draw out the books I enjoy the most, lingering over certain passages.

Franzen, like Irving, is a writer’s writer, possessing a unique take on story development, the intersecting of characters, the timelessness of subjects he covers, as well as his observations of contemporary life.  Remember Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities – his social commentary on the themes of the 1980’s, greed, racism, politics and class separation?  Franzen addresses the “new” issues of the post millennium, power struggles between men and women, global warming, the changes wrought by the Internet – both in how we communicate and how it’s impacted interpersonal relationships – and the hanging Sword of Damocles which is nuclear catastrophe.  These are high wire themes, anxiety producing, and disturbing.

So one could say that social realism is Franzen’s strength, but his writing is more than that.  In reading this novel I had the sense that it was writing itself, it having an internal energy that flowed through, rather than by, the author.  I know that sounds otherworldly, but I felt as if I was witnessing something that is happening in the here and now, a story into which the reader gives himself over, with characters that are real.

I used to rely on Updike’s Rabbit novels, a new one published approximately every ten years for four decades, to capture this nation’s Zeitgeist, and I felt part of it.  Franzen is like Updike in this regard, not to mention matching Updike’s towering intellect. These are two very smart, robust writers.  Updike was elegantly fluent with language, whereas Franzen’s prose hits you like a sledgehammer, delving deeply into his characters’ inner lives.   Purity expands upon his last novel, Freedom which concludes with the first few years of the 21st century.  The state of our hyper world is evolving faster than in Updike’s time and it is remarkable to see those changes so well documented in this novel.

At the heart of the story is a literal murder, but there are symbolic murders throughout, men and women in sexual power struggles, adult children and their parents who have their own special power struggles, identity crises in abundance. Through their actions, these characters bring about an existential disconnection that seems to epitomize this second decade of the 21st century.  There is a healthy dose of misanthropic analysis to be pondered.

Structurally the novel consists of several intersecting stories, timelines sometimes out of order.  At the heart is “Pip” as Purity Tyler is known.  Pip’s nickname is Franzen’s hat tip to Dickens’ character in Great Expectations.  Like Dickens’ Pip, Purity is the thread that ties together many lives. First our Pip is on a quest to discover the identity of her father – and by so doing hoping to eradicate a student loan of six figures (“her student debt was functionally a vow of poverty”), and find out exactly who she is, intellectually, morally, socially.  She is adrift and works at a “shit job” (the implication being all loan-burdened graduates are subjugated to those kinds of jobs) as a cold call sales agent for “Renewable Solutions” -- selling home owners on using government renewable energy tax credits by investing in projects for their homes, the firm taking a big slice of the tax credit. 

The work is demeaning to her intellect.  Her boss is demeaning.  She retreats each night to a rented room in a home populated by a number of dissidents who have a Utopian vision – under the rubric of the “Occupy movement.”  Their theory was that the technology driven gains in productivity and the resulting loss of manufacturing jobs would inevitably result in better wealth distribution, including generous payments to most of the population for doing nothing, when Capital realized that it could not afford to pauperize the consumers who bought its robot-made products.  Unemployed consumers would acquire an economic value equivalent to their lost value as actual laborers, and could join forces with the people still working in the service industry, thereby creating a new coalition of labor and the permanently unemployed, whose overwhelming size would compel social change.

She considers the name “Purity” the most shameful word in the English language because it was her given Name.  It made her ashamed of her own driver’s license, the Purity Tyler beside her sullen head shot, and made filling out any application a small torture.

There are two male figures dominating her life, Andreas Wolf, an East German ex-pat, and now a renegade charismatic leader of a Wiki-leaks kind of organization dubbed the “Sunshine Project,” and Tom Aberant, a brilliant on line journalist, founder of the Denver Independent with money left to him by his ex-wife’s father. 

Tom’s ex-wife, with whom he was madly in love, Anabel Laird, eschews money as the root of all her family’s sins, and during their eleven years of marriage leads Tom around like a trained animal.  Hilarious – getting him to pee sitting down as that’s the way women do it!  And she can only have sex during the three days around the full moon. Anabel impresses me as a nut job.

Nonetheless they endure a marriage mired in a “vow of poverty” which culminates in a power struggle sexual conquest.  In a departure from Franzen’s third person narrative, there is one chapter with a first person narrative from Tom’s perspective in which he describes their very strange relationship (in my day, you simply fell in love, got married, and had kids – not so simple any more).

Earlier, Tom had met Andreas, both as relatively young men, a chance meeting, like many of the crisscrossing incidents in the novel (a little like Hardy!), so they have a long standing connection.  Andreas Wolf is compared to Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, although Wolf considers his “Sunlight Project” more “purpose driven.”  He becomes an Internet rock star and having come from a totalitarian regime in East Germany finds the Internet at first his savior and then his burden.  He is plainly a sociopath. 

While still in East Germany Andreas meets the beautiful but very young Annagret.  Although she is half his age, Annagret becomes Andreas’ first real love.  He is willing to do anything for her.  Ultimately Annagret becomes part of the Sunlight Project and she is the one who inveigles Pip to join and be an intern in Bolivia where Andreas’ operation becomes ensconced.  Pip becomes Andreas’ new love object as by that time Annagret is out of the picture.  He allows Pip access to some of his inner thoughts:  There's the imperative to keep secrets, and the imperative to have them known. How do you know that you're a person, distinct from other people? By keeping certain things to yourself. You guard them inside you, because, if you don't, there's no distinction between inside and outside. Secrets are the way you know you even have an inside. A radical exhibitionist is a person who has forfeited his identity. But identity in a vacuum is also meaningless. Sooner or later, the inside of you needs a witness. Otherwise you're just a cow, a cat, a stone, a thing in the world, trapped in your thingness. To have an identity, you have to believe that other identities equally exist. You need closeness with other people. And how is closeness built? By sharing secrets.  Pip to Andreas: But it's a pretty weird theory for a person who exposes people's secrets for a living.

Andreas remembers the Old Republic in light of today’s massive disintermediation by technology, an interesting passage which in effect describes a “new class” that is nonetheless as heartless as the class it replaced:  The privileges available in the Republic had been paltry, a telephone, a flat with some air and light, the all-important permission to travel, but perhaps no paltrier than having x number of followers on Twitter, a much-liked Facebook profile, and the occasional four-minute spot on CNBC. The real appeal of apparatchikism was the safety of belonging. Outside, the air smelled like brimstone, the food was bad, the economy moribund, the cynicism rampant, but inside, victory over the class enemy was assured…. Outside, the middle class was disappearing faster than the icecaps, xenophobes were winning elections or stocking up on assault rifles, warring tribes were butchering each other religiously, but inside, disruptive new technologies were rendering traditional politics obsolete. Inside, decentralized ad hoc communities were rewriting the rules of creativity, the revolution rewarding the risk-taker who understood the power of networks. The New Regime even recycled the old Republic's buzz-words, collective, collaborative. Axiomatic to both was that a new species of humanity was emerging. On this, apparatchiks of every stripe agreed. It never seemed to bother them that their ruling elites consisted of the grasping, brutal old species of humanity.

After Tom’s torturous relationship and parting with his wife, a professional journalist, Leila, enters Tom’s life.  Leila’s relationship with Tom is an unusual one as she continues to be married to an over-the-hill, and now partially paralyzed, novelist /professor, Charles, keeping two homes, one with Charles and the other with Tom.  One of the overarching themes of the novel – the “new” feminism is expressed in her relationship with Tom:  Tom was a strange hybrid feminist, behaviorally beyond reproach but conceptually hostile. ‘I get feminism on an equal-rights issue….What I don’t get is the theory.  Whether women are supposed to be exactly the same as men, or different and better than men.’  And he’d laughed the way he did at things he found silly, and Leila had remained angrily silent, because she was a hybrid the other way around:  conceptually a feminist but one of those women whose primary relationships had always been with men and who had benefited professionally, all her life, from her intimacy with them.  She’d felt attacked by Tom’s laughter, and the two of them had been careful never to discuss feminism again.

After Pip interns for Andreas on the Sunshine Project (naturally, Andreas falls for Pip but Pip keeps her distance with some regrets), she winds up as Leila’s protégé in Denver, learning the craft of journalism. (Long story about the “coincidence” that leads to that connection and a spoiler as well, so enough said.) But Leila is jealous of Pip’s good looks and youth.  

Leila – with Pip as her researcher, skills she learned from the Sunshine Project --is trying to scoop a story for Tom’s online Denver Independent before the Washington Post gets to it: the lack of controls of a nuclear arsenal in Amarillo.  Here Franzen gives a humorous hat tip to the famous scene from Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 movie, Dr. Strangelove, with Maj. 'King' Kong played by Slim Pickens riding a thermonuclear bomb to its target. Two minor characters in the novel, Cody, who has stolen a replica of an A-Bomb, and his girlfriend, Phyllisha who thinks it is real (and it could have been because of the lack of controls) play out this scene:   He wanted her to feel the kind of power he had at his disposal.  He wanted her to take off all her clothes and put her arms around the bomb and stick her little tail up for him….She went ahead and did what he said….To be that close to so much potential death and devastation, to have her sweaty skin against the cool skin of a death-bomb, to imagine the whole city going up in a mushroom cloud when she orgasmed.  It was pretty great, she had to say.

It is through Tom and Leila that thermonuclear anxiety and a healthy dose of misanthropy emerges: Tom's theory of why human beings had yet to receive any message from extraterrestrial intelligences was that all civilizations, without exception, blew themselves up almost as soon as they were able to get a message out, never lasting more than a few decades in a galaxy whose age was billions; blinking in and out of existence so fast that, even if the galaxy abounded with earthlike planets, the chances of one civilization sticking around to get a message from another were vanishingly low, because it was too damned easy to split the atom. Leila neither liked this theory nor had a better one; her feeling about all doomsday scenarios was Please make me the first person killed; but she'd forced herself to read accounts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and what it was like to have had your skin burned off entirely and still be staggering down a street, alive. Not just for Pip’s sake did she want the Amarillo story to be large. The world's fear of nuclear weapons was unaccountably unlike her fear of fighting and, vomiting: the longer the world lasted without ending in mushroom clouds, the less afraid people seemed to be….Climate change got more ink in a day than nuclear arsenals did in a year. To say nothing of the NFL, passing records that Peyton Manning had broken as a Denver Bronco.  Leila was afraid and felt like the only one who was.

Amen to that, Jonathan Franzen.

Speaking of Jonathans, Franzen knows how to engage in some self deprecating humor, Leila’s novelist husband, Charles, saying to Pip: So many Jonathans.  A plague of literary Jonathans.  If you read only New York Times Book Review, you’d think it was the most common male name in America. Synonymous with talent, greatness.  Ambition, vitality.

In Andreas’ life we have an overbearing mother, as we have a passive but doting mother in Pip’s life and Tom’s mother is omnipresent, warning Tom about Anabel.  There are story lines galore, many characters, multigenerational dysfunctionality, and then the real world of the 21st century to channel.  Franzen captures all in this episodic novel.

[Pip] and her peers were well aware of what a terminally fucked-up world they were inheriting. Towards the end of the novel Pip was thinking about how terrible the world was, what an eternal struggle for power.  Secrets were power.  Money was power.  Being needed was power.  Power, power, power:  how could the world be organized around the struggle for a thing so lonely and oppressive in the having of it? But those thoughts did not deter her from her quest for honesty and trust which underlies her entire journey. 

One can only have “great expectations” for Jonathan Franzen’s future work.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

And I’ll Raise You a Hail Mary

It’s that silly season of the presidential primary beauty pageant and with Donald Trump in the Republican fray, there is no shortage of material for late night comedy hosts.  But where are Jon Stewart and the “old” Stephen Colbert when you need them?  Their cable comedy shows became the real news while the national newscasts seemed more like the comedy shows.

I’ve purposely avoided writing about politics for some time, mostly because it’s just too disheartening and I write merely one person’s opinion, not with the clout of, say, a Cal Thomas who clutches his bible when expressing his political views.  I have no such source of “truth” to cite.

But speaking of the Good Book, there is the recent amusing exchange between Ben Carson and The Donald, a school-yard square-off to demonstrate who might be more Christian.  Poor Mike Huckabee; he’s been going down yellow brick Evangelical road for so long and no presidential nomination, boo-hoo.  I’m more Christian than you are na-na na-na boo-boo.  Apparently, Carson casteth the first stone, citing Proverb 22:4: “By humility and the fear of the Lord, are riches and honor and life.”  He continued to say, referring to The Donald as “him,” –“And that's a very big part of who I am. Humility, and fear of the Lord. I don't get that impression with him. Maybe I'm wrong."

It must be tough to have lots of humility as a billionaire, particularly one who has monetized his name, not to mention being born to money, and bullied his way to billionaire status with financial tactics that would be the envy of Vito Corleone.  See Andy Kessler’s article in the Sept. 10 Wall Street Journal for the detail: “The Art of The Donald in 10 Easy Steps -- First, be born rich. Then acquire political influence. After that, pile up debt, write books and…. run for office.”

But Trump showed his other cheek to Carson in a relatively benign Christian Tweet: "Wow, I am ahead of the field with Evangelicals (am so proud of this) and virtually every other group, and Ben Carson just took a swipe at me."  According to Politico: “Weeks earlier, he told a crowd of religious conservatives in Iowa that he couldn't recall ever asking God for forgiveness, though he said he has taken Communion. ‘When I drink my little wine — which is about the only wine I drink — and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of asking for forgiveness, and I do that as often as possible because I feel cleansed,’ Trump said.”

Now he might have criticized Carson on something more substantive such as Dr. Carson’s belief in creationism and his denial of climate change, but, instead, I suppose he had a little wine and a little cracker to cleanse the matter.

This is what the candidates talk about when running for The Presidency? “God” forbid the pious rhetoric if an atheist ever runs.

And let’s not forget the Democrats in the two ring circus, and the plight of poor Hillary who was considered a shoo-in for the Democratic nomination not long ago.  The Clintons always get in trouble with denials rather than stepping up to the plate and admitting to a mistake.  I did not have sex with that email server!

Let the games begin!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Post Labor Day Thoughts

My good friend and ex colleague, Ron, emailed to wish me “Happy Labor Day” even though we’re out in the pasture with the herd of the retired.  We proudly earned our branded hides: workers.

As my older son Chris proclaims, life is work.  We’re always trying to find a balance but when your job is enjoyable, and you find it meaningful, life and work negotiate a successful merger.  During my career I was tempted to bring it to the next level in a major publishing organization.  It would have meant leaving the company I was joyfully building and moving overseas to London, a city we love.  But the thought of engaging in corporate politics, vs. the hands-on experience of running a stand-alone publishing company made me hesitate and I’m glad I did.

My favorite section of the Sunday New York Times is their Sunday Review, mostly thoughtful, opinion pieces.  This past week’s had two relating to the above, “Friends at Work? Not So Much” (by Adam Grant) and “Rising to Your Level of Misery at Work” (by Arthur C. Brooks).   The former cites factors such as the disappearance of a job for life, flextime, and the rise of the “virtual office” that has potentially impacted the loss of meaningful relationships for life.  I always considered colleagues friends as well as fellow workers.  There is much to be said about the virtual office but it is a steep price to pay for true collaboration and trust that develops through personal interaction.

The second article also speaks directly to my working years.  As the article asks, “Why don’t people just keep the jobs they like?”  The answer is we are sort of hard-wired to achieve success by climbing the next wrung in the ladder, and then next, etc.  I climbed to the extent that I found a place in the working world that made me happy.  Why go any further, indeed? Simply for more money?  Bad reason I thought.

I always felt that I was responsible not only to my employer, but to my employees, our vendors, authors, as well, everyone who makes up a publishing company.  As the article concludes: “In our interconnected world and global economy, our work transforms the lives of countless others.  Sometimes the impact is obvious: Managers and executives directly inflect their employees’ happiness and career success.  But everyone, in every industry, affects the lives of co-workers, supervisors, customers, suppliers, donors or investors.”  If we all realize this in our working lives, perhaps work would not be a dirty four letter word.

Speaking of the latter, the prior week’s Sunday Review (August 30) carried still another meaningful article on work, “We Need to Rethink How We Work,” accurately reflecting on what motivates people.   As Barry Schwartz, the author of the article points out, it was Adam Smith’s view that people just dislike work, writing in his enormously influential The Wealth of Nations, that “it is the interest of every man to live as much at his ease as he can.”  Schwartz thinks that his notion has clouded the science of management ever since, viewing workers as beasts of burden which a whipping stick, or at least a carrot and a stick might be the best motivators.  Hence, employees are being constantly monitored, as the wickedly funny movie Office Space satires as the “TPS Reports.”

Employees thrive on a measure of independence and fair compensation should be the natural result of people working at jobs they find meaningful.  “When money is made the measure of all things, it becomes the measure of all things….[We] should not lose sight of the aspiration to make work the kind of activity people embrace, rather than the kind they shun…..Work that is adequately compensated is an important social good.  But so is work that is worth doing.  Half of our waking lives is a terrible thing to waste.”

I’m currently reading Jonathan Franzen’s new novel, Purity (thus far, brilliant!).  More on that book in a later entry, but early on in the novel there is a techno-utopian view of work expressed by participants in a Wiki-leaks-like cult movement:

Their theory was that the technology driven gains in productivity and the resulting loss of manufacturing jobs would inevitably result in better wealth distribution, including generous payments to most of the population for doing nothing, when Capital realized that it could not afford to pauperize the consumers who bought its robot-made products. Unemployed consumers would acquire an economic value equivalent to their lost value as actual laborers, and could join forces with the people still working in the service industry, thereby creating a new coalition of labor and the permanently unemployed, whose overwhelming size would compel social change.

At this point there is a discussion as to why a person changing bedpans in a nursing home for a $40,000 salary wouldn’t want, instead, to be a paid as a consumer at the same remuneration.  One of the participants in the discussion comes to the conclusion: "The way you'd have to do it is make labor compulsory but then keep lowering the retirement age, so you'd always have full employment for everybody under thirty-two, or thirty-five, or whatever, and full unemployment for everybody over that age."

Is that the future of work?  Sounds more dystopian to me. Franzen’s unique social observations have a clarion ring of future verity.  Maybe that’s where we’re heading: let robots do the work, and we’ll lay about consuming streaming video all day.  Thankfully, that is not my future, but we ought to be careful about what we wish for.

Nonetheless, getting back to Labor Day, I’m now many years into retirement and my working life seems more like a dream some stranger went through for those four decades.  I like the way my friend Ron put it:  "I have accepted the fact that we were merely hired ballplayers.  While working we were respected, valued, and even ostensibly loved as long as we could pitch, field, run, and hit.  Once retired, we were just old ex ballplayers.  Now, there is hardly anyone at our companies who remember us or would even recognize our names let alone appreciate what we did.  It is the way of the world, and I have accepted it.”  To that analogy I added, in my response, “I like to think we played it well -- and now don't even get invited to an old timer’s game.  I still think I can reach home plate from the pitcher’s mound though :-)."

OK, no more pitching for me, but we know what we did and we know that our careers led to thousands of publications that might not have seen the light of day, and those went out into an Internet-less world at the time, and affected change and hopefully progress.  And we were part of working communities, dedicated as much to one another as we were to the work itself.  As I said, it was a merger of sorts.  My very first entry in this blog on the subject of work and my first job out of college still resonates.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

When She Was Good – and Roth is Great

The time had come to leave our boat and return to Florida.  We wanted to beat the weather for a safe drive.  Ann needed to see her surgeon because of an arthritic flare up in her knee and as much as we love being in Connecticut, seeing friends and family, living on our boat at our Club, there comes a time when the confines of the boat simply get to you and we long for the spaciousness of our home.  It’s the earliest that we’ve ever returned from our 15 years of bifurcated home/boat living, just in time for what we thought might become a Category 1 Hurricane, Erika, which thankfully disintegrated into remnants with only brief heavy rain and an eerie sunrise the day after.

Right before leaving the boat I picked up a novel I had brought (again, avoiding short stories for the time being), this time Philip Roth’s When She Was Good.  I’ve read a lot of Roth, and think his American Pastoral is one of the more important novels of my time.  I wasn’t expecting much from this novel, one often not discussed, but I was curious about it as to my knowledge Roth’s only novel with a woman (Lucy Nelson / Bassart) as the protagonist, particularly given the accusations over the years of Roth being a misogynist.  Furthermore, as Stanley Elkin’s brief blurb on the cover states, When She Was Good could be compared to Theodore Dreiser’s work ( I've read practically all his work in college and can count him among my favorite American writers), particularly in my mind his American Tragedy.

What mesmerized me is Roth’s lapidary characterization of Lucy.  This is a character, like the one in Dreiser’s other great novel, Sister Carrie, who you are unlikely to forget and it is Roth’s characterizations and dialogue which sets this novel apart. .  It reminded me of my own mother’s struggles in a man’s world.  There are two edges to this sword, though, Lucy as standing for and rationalizing what she considers “the truth” and then where her expectations stemming from” the truth” almost borders on mental illness.  Although she is described as a “ball buster” at one point, I think Roth is clearly rooting for Lucy in a world that does not reward her stalwart individualism.  Like Anita Shreve’s Olympia in Fortune’s Rocks, Lucy is a woman before her time. And like Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread, this is a multigenerational novel, but with a darker view. 

Willard Carroll is from a dysfunctional family but as a young man he finds the American Dream waiting for him in “Liberty Center:”

     So at the sight of Liberty Center, its quiet beauty, its serene order, its gentle summery calm, all that had been held in check in him, all that tenderness of heart that had been for eighteen years his secret burden, even at times his shame, came streaming forth. If ever there was a place where life could be less bleak and harsh and cruel than the life he had known as a boy, if ever there was a place where a man did not have to live like a brute, where he did not have to be reminded at every turn that something in the world either did not like mankind, or did not even know of its existence, it was here. Liberty Center! Oh, sweet name! At least for him, for he was indeed free at last of that terrible tyranny of cruel men and cruel nature.

     He found a room; then he found a job-he took an examination and scored high enough to become postal clerk; then he found a wife, a strong-minded and respectable girl from a proper family; and then he had a child; and then one day-the fulfillment, he discovered, of a very deep desire-he bought a house of his own, with a front porch and a backyard: downstairs a parlor, a dining room, a kitchen and a bedroom; upstairs two bedrooms more and the bath. A back bathroom was built downstairs in 1915, six years after the birth of his daughter, and following his promotion to assistant postmaster of the town.

That daughter, Myra, becomes the mother to Lucy, Willard’s grandchild.  But Myra married a man with a drinking problem and as a young girl Lucy calls the police as her mother was hit by her drunken husband, Whitey, blackening her eye.  The shame of having the police involved, and their name the subject of gossip, seems worse to Lucy’s grandparents, and even her mother, than the act itself.  It is from this action that the novel finds its themes and its energy, Lucy condemning her father, totally ostracizing him, and men in general, unless they tell the “truth” and abide by her expectations of how a man should behave, taking responsibility, doing the right thing.

These “blue threads” of shame and anger and expectations culminate in her savage condemnation of her malleable husband, Roy, with whom they now have a child, the fourth generation in the novel.  These very words could have been spoken by my own mother during the height of her own unhappy marriage to my father:

     "You worm! Don't you have any guts at all? Can't you stand on your own two feet, ever? You sponge! You leech! You weak, hopeless, spineless, coward! You'll never change- you don't even want to change! You don't even know what I mean by change! You stand there with your dumb mouth open! Because you have no backbone! None!" She grabbed the other cushion from behind her and heaved it toward his head. "Since the day we met!" ….
     She charged off the sofa. "And no courage!" she cried. "And no determination! And no will of your own! If I didn't tell you what to do, if I were to turn my back-if I didn't every single rotten day of this rotten life ... Oh, you're not a man, and you never will be, and you don't even care!" She was trying to hammer at his chest; first he pushed her hands down, then he protected himself with his forearms and elbows; then he just moved back, a step at a time.

This tirade is in front of family and in front of their child.  It is a novel that resonates with me for personal reasons.   I’ll leave it to the reader as to whether Lucy is a “ball buster” or just a person living in a world that has turned on her because “of that terrible tyranny of cruel men and cruel nature” -- as experienced by her own grandfather before he fled to “Liberty Center.”

I’ll miss Roth (who has vowed to write no more) as I’ve missed Updike.  To hear from them no longer is like losing close friends.