Sunday, May 06, 2012

Book Review: Goodbye, Columbus

Goodbye, Columbus - Philip Roth

First, I should admit that I didn't know that Philip Roth's Goodbye, Columbus is a book of stories.  It was disappointing to realize this after being so drawn into the characters and narrative of the title story.  Thankfully this story, of a young Newark man's  involvement with a wealthier girl from Short Hills, makes up nearly half of the book's pages.

The book is more about Jewish-ness than any of Roth's novels I've read previously. Even Portnoy's Complaint, centered around a Jewish boy's upbringing, is more about coming of age that it is about being Jewish.  I am not Jewish, but this lack of connection with the text does not leave me feeling disconnected from the stories.  Roth has an ability to draw me in, to get me involved, that overcomes an unfamiliarity with any of the subject matter.

It is easy to think of any of the masters like Roth as stodgy. The enduring success seems like a product of conventional storytelling. Roth, though, always surprises. And does it well. The title story is conventional, the close third person and subject matter all standard. Other stories, though, venture further afield. Other characters are less standard stock, and Roth takes us there with them.

While Goodbye, Columbus will not be one of my favorites, or even one of my favorites Roth books, it has only further convinced me of his abilities.

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