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Goodbye, Columbus And Five Short Stories (1995)

Goodbye, Columbus and Five Short Stories (1995)

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3.87 of 5 Votes: 1
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0679601597 (ISBN13: 9780679601593)
modern library

About book Goodbye, Columbus And Five Short Stories (1995)

Rooney 1Patrick RooneyLTMO 144DProfessor Bruce Thompson7 June 2011Philip Roth’s debut novel, Goodbye, Columbus, is in part a window into secular Jewish life in the fifties era. Twenty-three year-old Neil juggles life and love while tolerating Jewish woes from the immortal (clinging, over-bearing mother figure) to the unique time period, which pits reactionary developments against the first hesitant stirrings of the sexual revolution to come.Goodbye, Columbus follows Neil’s first love affair, a beautiful but vulnerable experience in anyone’s life, as countless melancholy love songs attest to. Cat Steven’s “The First Cut is the Deepest” may express a sentiment close to universality, but Neil’s experience is all the more complicated for the conflicting cultural pressures of the time. In the age of suburbia, wealthy Jews followed the exodus to picket fences and manicured lawns, abandoning the city life that was so central to first and second-generation Jewish American culture. The resulting divide between wealthy suburban Jews and working-class city Jews fuels the central conflict of the novella. Neil is a college graduate with a modest job at the New York public library who lives with his aunt in Newark. His girlfriend Brenda, however, embodies the new stereotype made possible by the Rooney 2increase of wealth in the Jewish community: that of the Jewish-American Princess.“She still thinks we live in Newark,” Brenda says disparagingly of her frugal mother, while all Neil’s aunt can say about Brenda’s family is “Since when do Jewish people live in Short Hills? They couldn’t be real Jews believe me” (Roth 26, 58). At first glance this sounds like the Romeo and Juliet formula, but Brenda and Neil are not star-cross’d lovers accidentally entangled in a cultural rivalry, but are themselves partisans, albeit partisans of a confused and lukewarm nature. Neil is painfully aware of his inadequacy as a suitor in the Patimkin’s eyes. Even Brenda questions him tactlessly: “Why are you still here? Why aren’t you with [your parents]? …“Are you planning on making a career of the library?” (49, 51) His self-consciousness prompts a passive-aggressive attitude toward his lover, certain that she will leave him sooner or later for a boy from the country club.For her part, Brenda is not exactly a snob, but simultaneously resents the expectations of her financially successful family while maintaining a sort of cluelessness about her own privilege, and about Neil’s sensitivity to issues of class. In fact, Neil is sensitive in general. He is wounded, for example, by Mr. Patimkin’s declaration that he eats like a bird, perceiving it as a slight on his masculinity. But it’s hard to blame Brenda too much for her insensitivity, as Neil often hides his feelings Rooney 3under a tough guy façade. Their romance blossoms in spite of the enormous gulf between their worlds and their difficulty in communicating:“Do you love me, Neil?”tI did not answer.t“I’ll sleep with you whether you do or not, so tell me the truth.”t“That was pretty crude.”t“Don’t be prissy,” she said.t“No, I mean a crude thing to say about me.”t“I don’t understand,” she said, and she didn’t, and that she didn’t pained me; I allowed myself the minor subterfuge, however, of forgiving Brenda her obtuseness. “Do you?” she said.t“No.”t…[S]uddenly I was sure that when I left the water Brenda would be gone. I’d be alone in this damn place….when Brenda finally returned to me I would not let her go, and her cold wetness crept into me somehow and made me shiver. “That’s it, Brenda. Please, no more games,” I said, and then when I spoke again I held her so tightly I almost dug my body into hers, “I love you,” I said, “I do”tttttt(51-4).tAs melodramatically as Aunt Gladys expresses her doubts about suburban Jews, the sentiment reflects a sense of alienation as the old cultural cornerstones fade into irrelevance. Neil reflects upon this “in the heart of the Negro section of Newark.”Years ago, at the time of the great immigration, it had been the Jewish section, and still one could see the little fish stores, the kosher delicatessens, the Turkish baths, where my grandparents had shopped and bathed at the beginning of the century. Even the smells had lingered: whitefish, corned beef, sour tomatoes—but now, on top of these, was the grander greasier smell of auto wrecking shops, the sour stink of a brewery, the burning odor from a leather factory” (90).Rooney 4Smelling is the sense most closely associated with memory, and the mixing of the old and the new represents the past’s semi-permanence as well as the future’s inevitability. Who would come after the Negroes? Who was left? No one, I thought, and someday these streets, where my grandmother drank hot tea from an old jahrzeit glass, would be empty and we would all of us have moved to the crest of the Orange Mountains, and wouldn’t the dead stop kicking at the slats in their coffins then? (91)Neil’s grandparents’ generation of Jewish immigrants were caught between the Old World and the New. Unfortunately, one could say the same for Jews coming of age as Americans in the fifties. They are still torn between loyalty to culture and family and the desire for freedom. They are ambivalent and confused regarding shifting racial hierarchies, in which Jews outrank Blacks, but could not be said to have achieved total equality. They are perched on the fault line dividing the conformist fifties from the revolutionary sixties. It is a difficult time to know how to live, more difficult still to learn how to love.Rooney 5Works CitedRoth, Philip. Goodbye, Columbus. New York: Vintage International, 1987.

Everyone thinks Philip Roth, the American mid-century's Saul Bellow, wrote the same book over and over again throughout his career. Most people think that archetypal book is Portnoy's Complaint. I disagree. If each of his books were Portnoy's Complaint material, I would march myself right to my local bookseller and purchase every one of them. I read recently, in a curmudgeonly blog entry, disdaining overrated writers, that Goodbye, Columbus was the only good thing Roth produced, that he began hated humanity too much after this book. I don't think so. This novella and five short stories read more like a Jewish Salinger from New Jersey, a sweet mid-century rant about suburban life, much like the Updike of the time, just a little further east.The novella itself has an immediate class consciousness, with Roth's description of Short Hills being 180 feet above Newark. Above, indeed. Nose jobs, tennis, country clubs face off with a pitch perfect Jewish aunt in Newark, and the plastic surgery wins. The completely alien American life of country clubs and the Patimkins' dining room, basketball on the drive way and Boston for college hurt Neil, and they hurt me. The great Newark scene of the black kid looking for "heart" books, resolves in the little domestic trifle of Neil stealing cherries in the Patimkins' basement. Of course, he goes upstairs and pops Brenda's cherry. Cruel, wet Brenda marco polos Neil into saying "I love you," but doesn't say it back. Neil saves Gauguin for the black kid and Brenda trains Neil to be a trackstar, just what she wants, someone more like her brother. "Goodbye, Columbus" is a dream reference, a fog like Catcher in the Rye. Diaphrams and kitchen sinks, weddings with balding tired, Metro-North Leo Patimkin - this is Neil's future. His life seems small when he walks us to the library in Harvard Yard.In "The Conversion of the Jews" Ozzie is a martyr, making the rabbi admit the possibility of Jesus being God, in an especially self-hating Jewy way, as if all of Ozzie friends want to be "saved" by him jumping.In "Defender of the Faith" Grossbart constantly kvetches and connives, until the Seder swapped for Chinese food shows his hypocrisy, and Marx is goading into hating his people by this one with such stereotypical tendencies."Epstein" is the dilemma of every American man that ever lived, a Rabbit of old age, still needing to screw around to feel fulfilled, and still the wife is Lou's last lifeline. So is this a tragedy for her? Or just an extreme god-like devotion?"You Can't Tell a Man by the Song He Sings" is a great reminiscence of gym class baseball jock straps, relating red baiting to the intense scrutiny of every one's history, and has a great flavor of Italian Newark.In "Eli, The Fanatic" Roth creates a great reversal of roles between the lawyer and the orthodox man, in an almost figurative and dreamlike way, so we don't know if they're two people or one. This is a strong indictment of the heterodoxy of lazy Protestants and modern Jews.

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for some reason somehow I had received the impression that Roth wasn't really worth it, probably because of the whole misogynistic self-hating Jew thing, and now I feel like I've been lied to? because this was really good? anyway I didn't mean to read this—I have very many books of my own I have yet to read—but I was inspecting one of my parents' bookcases to settle something regarding john cheever and after that I was pulling some books in and out of shelves as I am wont to do and this was one of them, and then I was on page four, and I thought, oh, might as well, might as well read this while it's still readable, because the top fourth of both its front and back covers is torn off (not sure of my mother or one of her siblings committed this atrocity or some stranger—the book originally belonged to the van nuys high school library...)the novella is really excellent, perfect dissatisfied august times it isn't quite able to transcend its datedness (Alas: The Diaphragm), but on the whole it does. i get the vibe it's a good roth intro for teen/twentysomethings in terms of both style & subject. regarding the whole misogynistic self-hating jew thing, i would say, yeah, he's probably misogynistic, but all i've read is goodbye columbus, who am i to say anything. there's some unintentionally gross stuff in the novella and some intentionally gross/honest stuff in epstein, but aside from that. i wouldn't go with "self-hating" so much as "self-aware/complicated/honest"—i really enjoyed defender of the faith. and the jesus christ moment in the conversion of the jews was probably the most uncomfortable painful thing i've ever read (which surprised me, how much it affected me...), but it's supposed to be discomfiting, so. not sure how you can keep thinking "self-hating" after you read eli, the fanatic (which was really wonderful, my favorite after goodbye, columbus). honestly just gives me the urge to flesh out my sparse background in jewish literature while i'm still in a house that has some.

“Goodbye, Columbus” ★★★★★“The Conversion of the Jews” ★★★★“Defender of the Faith” ★★★★“Epstein” ★★★★“You Can’t Tell a Man by the Song He Sings” ★★★★“Eli, the Fanatic” ★★★★

Este es el noveno libro de Roth que me leo. Hasta ahora siempre me había quejado de lo mismo, me daba la impresión de que no sabía cerrar bien las historias, de que sus finales nunca eran redondos. Goodbye Columbus, el relato que da nombre al libro, me ha hecho replantearme mi opinión. La historia termina de una manera incluso más abrupta que de costumbre. No se si Roth lo hace aposta o no, pero me doy cuenta ahora de que sus historias suelen empezar también de manera abrupta. Entramos en ellas como el que llega tarde a un cine y se ha perdido los primeros 10 minutos de la película. Empiezo a pensar que esa falta de pulcritud a la hora de contar sus historias es precisamente lo que más me gusta de Roth, porque contribuye a que estas sean más realistas. En la vida real no existen los principios ni los finales redondos, las historias empiezan antes de que uno nazca y siguen su curso cuando uno se muere. Cualquier punto que elijamos para empezar o terminar la narración será forzosamente artificial.

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