In 1951, the second year of the Korean War, a studious, law-abiding, and intense youngster from Newark, New Jersey, Marcus Messner, begins his sophomore year on the pastoral, conservative campus of Ohio's Winesburg College. And why is he there and not at a local college in Newark where he originally enrolled? Because his father, the sturdy, hardworking neighborhood butcher, seems to have gone mad–mad with fear and apprehension of the dangers of adult life, the dangers of the world, the dangers he sees in every corner for his beloved boy. Far from Newark, Marcus has to find his way amid the customs and constrictions of another American world.
Indignation, Philip Roth's twenty-ninth book, is a startling departure from the haunted narratives of old age and experience in Roth’s recent books and a powerful exploration of a remarkable moment in American history.
About two and a half months after the well-trained divisions of North Korea, armed by the Soviets and Chinese Communists, crossed the 38th parallel into South Korea on June 25, 1950, and the agonies of the Korean War began, I entered Robert Treat, a small college in downtown Newark named for the city's seventeenth-century founder. I was the first member of our family to seek a higher education. None of my cousins had gone beyond high school, and neither my father nor his three brothers had finished elementary school. "I worked for money," my father told me, "since I was ten years old." He was a neighborhood butcher for whom I'd delivered orders on my bicycle all through high school, except during baseball season and on the afternoons when I had to attend interschool matches as a member of the debating team. Almost from the day that I left the store–where I'd been working sixty-hour weeks for him between the time of my high school graduation in January and the start of college in September–almost from the day that I began classes at Robert Treat, my father became frightened that I would die. Maybe his fear had something to do with the war, which the U.S. armed forces, under United Nations auspices, had immediately entered to bolster the efforts of the ill-trained and under-equipped South Korean army; maybe it had something to do with the heavy casualties our troops were sustaining against the Communist firepower and his fear that if the conflict dragged on as long as World War Two had, I would be drafted into the army to fight and die on the Korean battlefield as my cousins Abe and Dave had died during World War Two. Or maybe the fear had to do with his financial worries: the year before, the neighborhood's first supermarket had opened only a few blocks from our family's kosher butcher shop, and sales had begun steadily falling off, in part because of the supermarket's meat and poultry section's undercutting my father's prices and in part because of a general postwar decline in the number of families bothering to maintain kosher households and to buy kosher meat and chickens from a rabbinically certified shop whose owner was a member of the Federation of Kosher Butchers of New Jersey. Or maybe his fear for me began in fear for himself, for at the age of fifty, after enjoying a lifetime of robust good health, this sturdy little man began to develop the persistent racking cough that, troubling as it was to my mother, did not stop him from keeping a lit cigarette in the corner of his mouth all day long. Whatever the cause or mix of causes fueling the abrupt change in his previously benign paternal behavior, he manifested his fear by hounding me day and night about my whereabouts. Where were you? Why weren't you home? How do I know where you are when you go out? You are a boy with a magnificent future before you–how do I know you're not going to places where you can get yourself killed?
Excerpted from Indignation by Philip Roth. Copyright © 2009 by Philip Roth. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
About Philip Roth
In 1997 Philip Roth won the Pulitzer Prize for American Pastoral. In 1998 he received the National Medal of Arts at the White House and in 2002 the highest award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Gold Medal in Fiction. He has twice won the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He has won the PEN/Faulkner Award three times. In 2005 The Plot Against America received the Society of American Historians’ Prize for “the outstanding historical novel on an American theme for 2003-2004.” Recently Roth received PEN’s two most prestigious awards: in 2006 the PEN/Nabokov Award and in 2007 the PEN/Bellow Award for achievement in American fiction. Roth is the only living American novelist to have his work published in a comprehensive, definitive edition by the Library of America. In 2011 he received the National Humanities Medal at the White House, and was later named the fourth recipient of the Man Booker International Prize.
“In Indignation [Roth’s] power and intensity seem undiminished . . . Of all Roth's recent novels, it ventures farthest into the unknowable. In his unshowy way, with all his quotidian specificity and merciless skepticism, Roth is attempting to storm heaven–an endeavor all the more desperately daring because he seems dead certain it's not there.” –David Gates, The New York Times Book Review
“A triumph.” –USA Today
“It is Roth's virtuoso skill to couple Marcus's companionable pleasure in part-time butchering with his nightmare that the knives he wields so dexterously will be used on himself.” –The Boston Globe
“As always, the prose is well built–sinewy and graceful–and, as always, the wit is as sharp as a German knife. There are simply no novels by Roth in which you cannot detect the hand of a master.” –O, The Oprah Magazine
“Terrific . . . there's a lovely perplexedness to the writing here.” –GQ
“He is a master. And the short form serves the story: The shocking rush from this book comes from watching Roth expertly and quickly build up to a half-dozen final pages that absolutely deliver the kill.” –Entertainment Weekly
“The interplay between a life just begun and ended, impulse and reflection, college high jinks and eternity is what makes it resonate.” – People, 4 out of 4 stars
“Of how many writers can it be said that they're still producing some of their best work well into their 70s? With [Indignation], his 24th novel, Philip Roth proves beyond any dispute that he deserves to be counted in that select group.” –BookPage
“Mr. Roth is a master magician who can make the same old rabbits do new tricks.” –The New York Sun
“Mesmerizing . . . Philip Roth’s intrepid novel of self-revelation demands to be read in one sitting. It’s that good. It’s that audacious. It’s that compelling.” –Seattle Times
“Roth, blending the bawdy exuberance of his early period and the disenchantment of his recent work, demonstrates with subtle mastery, the 'incomprehensible way one's most banal, incidental, even comical choices achieve the most disproportionate result'.” –The New Yorker
“As sharply honed as one of those butcher-shop knives that haunt Marcus's dreams . . . Hard to forget.” –Newsweek
“A magnificent display of writerly talent: a lean, powerful novel with bold characters who command attention, scenes of impressive dramatic interest and comic vitality, language that blasts the reader's cozy complacency . . . and a theme that swells imperceptibly from a murmur to a satisfying roar . . . Read Indignation–read it with a ear for the naked power of Philip Roth at full tilt.” –The New York Observer
“Copies of Indignation, Philip Roth's ferocious little tale, ought to be handed out on college campuses along with condoms and tetanus shots . . . Here's a novel to be witnessed as an explosion from an author still angry enough to burn with adolescent rage and wise enough to understand how self-destructive that rage can be.” –Washington Post Book World
“Does anybody else writing prose today sustain a conversation with the reader as beautifully as Roth, with his whirlwind of shouts, whispers, riffs and exposition?. . . . Roth returns with ‘Indignation’ and Virtuosity.” –Oscar Villalon, Books We Like, NPR
“Indignation is a glorious act of chutzpah on the part of arguably the most fearless American novelist working today.” –Fort Worth Star-Telegram
“It's that final twist of the knife that makes the book so powerful, and leaves you feeling unstrung when you put it down.” –Bloomberg News
“Roth balances the darkness with sharp, comic irony . . . In Indignation, Roth has reached back to Newark to breath new life into all the old obsessions.” –Associated Press
“Written in elegant, economical prose. . . . intensely psychological. . . . utterly engrossing.” –Times Literary Supplement (London)
“A late masterpiece. . . . Indignation is Philip Roth's best novel since The Counterlife . . . Intricately wrought, passionate and fascinating.” –Financial Times (London)