by Philip Roth
This is the first book I've 'read' by Philip Roth. I'm never sure if the pleasure of listening to a book is any indication of how it would read, but narrator Dennis Boutsikaris does an excellent job of giving voice to the ordinary people herein faced with extraordinary events in "equatorial New Jersey" through the summer of 1944. Each day as I listened while driving through Denver, I was reluctant to stop the CD, turn off the car, and return to my life of errands.
In the realm of scene setting (as in "it was a dark and stormy night"), the stifling heat of Newark during a horrific summer-time polio epidemic while the city's young men are off fighting and dying in Europe and Asia redefines the art. The outside air is stifling and heavy with humidity, pedestrians soaked with sweat as soon as they leave their houses. Protagonist Bucky Cantor is sweating alright, trying to navigate the moral high ground as playground director, teacher, grandson, and fiance. Classified 4-F due to poor eyesight, he tries to justify his safe life at home while his friends are overseas in the army where he'd like to be.
This upright, literal-minded, good-hearted man vacillates from moment to moment, changes his mind at night and again in the morning, struggles mightily to do the right thing. How does one live and love on despite personal and global tragedy? A sad and thought-provoking book.