|Published: Sept 2008|
Another Philip Roth novel, another slow starter. But, when Roth's stories kick into gear they tend to drive an emotional dagger through my soul and prompt a re-investigation of my own ruinous behavior and mortality. Indignation, Roth's 25th novel, is set in 1951 during the Korean War. The protagonist, Marcus Messner, is an overachieving college sophomore who recently transferred from a small college in his home town of Newark to a conservative college in Ohio... mainly to escape his overprotective father. In Ohio, Marcus encounters the typical ups and downs of college life. He also becomes enamored by the lovely, but unstable, Olivia Hutton. On their first date, Olivia performs fellatio on Marcus and that pretty much signals the beginning of the end for our protagonist.
However, Indignation is about more than I have described above. It is about: the relationship between a father and son, life during war time, death, and being a Jewish immigrant in America. But, one of the moments that hit me hardest was an exchange between Marcus and his mother. (Spoiler Alert!) She begs him not to see Olivia any more, she warns him, "Weak people are not harmless," which leads Marcus to a crescendo of confusing emotions.
There is a "wow" factor that often accompanies a Philip Roth book, and this one is no exception. His books may require a little patience in the beginning, but so far they have been worthwhile in the end.