The Human Stain by Philip Roth

I’ll tell you what I was told when I learned that I was reading this novel for my film and literature class. My professor told us that Philip Roth was the best American author out there, absolutely no questions asked. In my professor’s opinion, this is also Roth’s best work. I don’t find it comforting to start reading a book with such high expectations when it is a book that I would not have picked up to read if I didn’t have to. Also, it was what seemed to be a very long 361 pages.

The Human Stain is difficult to describe. I suppose you could say it is about a “retired” college dean/professor, Coleman Silk, who was disgraced as being a racist man and was enraged by this false claim, and so he hired the narrator, Nathan Zuckerman, to write his story. The narrator ends up writing a slightly different story about the older gentleman than originally planned.

The Human Stain

You could also say that it is about a few other ‘main’ characters worth mentioning. There is, of course, Faunia Farley, the illiterate janitor working for the college Coleman was employed at. There is her crazed, Vietnam veteran husband, Lester Farley. Another professor at Athena, the college, named Delphine Roux has a small role, as she helped discredit Coleman. Then there is  the narrator himself. Every one of these characters are granted first person points of view throughout the book. I will admit that I don’t believe they added to the story that much. I did not enjoy most of them… though there were some bits and pieces that made each viewpoint worth reading. I liked the character development for Faunia, and the fact that she was fascinated with crows and convinced she was one in a past life. It was fitting that Delphine was a French aristocrat who came to America to make a name for herself, and seemingly failed, because I really detested her character. She was haughty and self absorbed, which was actually nice, because I could focus my dislike on a character that deserved it.

Near the end of the book, I found myself (grudgingly) liking Roth’s style of writing. However, after a certain point, I found myself bored and wanting to read other books, which is why this took me so long. Although I did end up somewhat enjoying the prose, I would say Roth is a little long-winded for my tastes. Some sentences seemed like paragraphs, and some paragraphs lasted pages. I can definitely see where the praise is coming from for this novel. I can also see how many have enjoyed it. However, it is not something I would have picked up on my own, nor something I would recommend to anyone who does not love strong literary fiction.

I’ve decided to post this review today, rather than next week along with the film, as this book has driven me to have a slight distaste for reading the past couple weeks — see my next post for a more detailed description as to why. However, on Monday, we will be watching the film adaptation, and I will probably review that in comparison with the book. Look forward to that sometime next week!


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. mylivereads
    Jan 23, 2012 @ 10:03:46

    I had the same reaction – it was hard to pick up another book after reading one like this! I’ll admit I enjoyed Farley’s character and bits of Faunia, but there were so many things that were distracting from the story in general. I’m curious to see what the film leaves in and how it tells the story.


  2. Trackback: The Human Stain — Film « Realm of Reviews
  3. livritome
    Feb 09, 2012 @ 18:10:46

    I read it a year ago and was just completely depressed. I appreciated the big ideas behind it, but just found it so boring and draggy….couldn’t get into it. I know it is supposed to be this huge classic, so, I don’t know. Just didn’t get it.


    • hannahrose42
      Mar 29, 2012 @ 17:58:25

      I felt similarly. I could see the interesting themes, but I wasn’t really grabbed by the book. I always felt like I could be reading something more enjoyable.


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