Tuesday, September 26, 2006

American city

American Pastoral
by Philip Roth

"These deep thinkers were the only people he could not stand to be around for long, these people who'd never manufactured anything or seen anything manufactured."
The Swede, like Updike's Rabbit, is a former star high school athlete. Like Rabbit, he loses a child, though unlike Rabbit, not through the child's death. He's an upper-class Rabbit, though, someone who thinks he's got it under control. And the thing is, even when the Swede doesn't have everything under control and when he knows he doesn't, the he still kind of does.

It doesn't make up a huge part of the story, but as the Swede's life unfolds, so does his the life of his hometown, Newark (the one in N.J.), also the site of The Plot Against America.

The Plot's present-day action (circa World War II) has working- and middle-class Jewish families in the city. By American Pastoral, they've pulled out, with the Swede keeping his glove factory there but moving toward moving that out, too.

So what about Newark? It's a city of 280,00, and I've only seen it from Amtrak. And from there it looks like Wilmington, which pretty much looks like Baltimore, only with an Omaha skyline.

Philip Roth shows me a little bit of what Newark at least once was, with people riding buses and raising families and sometimes hanging on. And he's led me to find a glimpse of what it could be:

A New Arc: A botched city on the cusp of a renaissance (from The Wall Street Journal).
The New City (from Esquire, PDF).

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