Roth certainly is erudite. But he can aslo be vulgar, which sometimes is an affront to my (by Roth's standards) repressed sensibilities. Yes there is a lot of influence from the classics, but there is equal influence from the real, raw world of today.
I enjoyed reading about the fearless attack that Coleman Silk launches against the "eminences" at the college where he is dean. How he does a proper cleaning out of the dead stock, even if it was their grandpa who built the library. At first Coleman Silk is this guy you respect and you believe that his life adds up to a great deal.
Roth then slowly peels off the layers that cover the true Coleman Silk. Will I eventually find a wholesome kernel or a rotton wormy middle that's fit to be thrown away? Is Coleman just a naughty old man just getting his groove on with the helpless Fauna? Or is he worse than that? Or is there more to him than that? Is Faunia really as helpless as she wants us to think she is?
I'm curious now about Delphine Roux. There is a whole lot of sexual tension there too. At first I thought she was an old bag, but now I'm getting to see that she is fairly young.
But the novel is not about the trysts of Coleman Silk.
It's about the Secret he's carried all these fifty something years. This secret is the key to his individual freedom in the context of a society in which one iota of blackness could make the difference between whether you mopped the floor or something else. But this secret also traps Coleman. For example, he is alienated from one of his sons, he senses a connection between this alienation and The Secret. He can't let the cat out of the bag, but he wants his son back.
- Delphine claims that 'everyone knows' about Coleman and Fauna- actually nobody, not even Zuckerman the omniscient narrator knows. In fact Delhine doesn't even begin to 'know' about her own self, let alone anybody else. Roth thinks that what we don't know about ourselves and other people is greater than what we do know.
- Faunia, ostensibly the most ignorant, helpless, morally depraved, is probably the most enlightened, strongest, purest character in the story.
- The university is a 'hotbed of ignorance'.
- The setting is New England, the home of individualists such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Thoreaux, but the people a set of conformists.
- Coleman seeks freedom to control his destiny, to live life on his terms. He does this by renouncing his blackness. But he actually lives a life of servitude to that lie. He dies in the prison of his rage. In the end he has no control over anything - one little word, 'spook' (supposedly a racist slur) unravels his whole life. Similarly, Delphine tries to construct herself outside 'the orthodoxy of her family's given' but ends up in a 'drama beyond her control'.
- Coleman ends up as Delphine's Saviour - his death provides an escape from disgrace. Coleman is also Athena's saviour. It's hard to imagine Coleman, who lives only for himself (I agree with Walt), Coleman, who turns his back on his own mother the way he does and for the reason he does, as anybody's saviour. What an unlikely Messianic figure.
- Zuckerman says that Coleman's death is ironic. I haven't figured why.
- Coleman breaks down racial barriers at the university by hiring and promoting people from various racial backgrounds. These same people keep silent when the charge of rasism is brought against him. What lends the irony of Coleman being charged with racism an extra twist is Coleman's dark little secret - he is black.
I noticed that sometomes the irony was actually a paradox, but then what is a pradox but irony dressed up in evening wear?
Roth does an interesting thing with narrative perspective. He constructs a narrator who is an author, then he has this author meet and get to know and love Coleman, then he has this author write Coleman's story. In reading the story it feels like you are being told the story by someone who was there.
But Roth loses me at times because after having gone through the trouble of constructing such a real-ish narrator as Zuckerman, Roth makes the narrator omniscient. A real person cannot know what's going on in another person's mind. (If that were so, I'd be scared to think!) Sometimes the story is being told by Zuckerman. But as the action intensifies, or as you get deeper into the psyche of the chararacter you will find that the story is being told by Coleman himself, or Faunia herself, or Les himself, or Delphine herself. Then it reverts to Zuckerman as story teller.
Inspite of this, I actually like Zuckerman. He makes me want to read the rest of the trilogy.
I wonder if the movie does justice to the novel?