Indignation Review
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Little Markie Messner always did everything just right. He received good grades, was well behaved, and, even when he became a teenager, he dutifully worked in his fatherís kosher butcher shop, slitting and disemboweling chickens by knife and by hand. And he never complained because his intent in life was to please his father and to make his mother proud.

In return, his father passed his philosophy of grim resignation on to him: ďYou do what you have to do,Ē and itís this self-effacing motif that runs through Philip Rothís new novel, Indignation.

Work hard, do good, donít ask questions, and maybe, if youíre lucky, youíll be socially accepted, and maybe, even more improbably, youíll make something of yourself. That might have been an important lesson for those first immigrants who arrived in Newark at the turn of the nineteenth century, but the idea that they should keep their ambitions in check would frustrate their upward-bound children, like Markie.

Indignation is set at outbreak of the Korean War, and it was against this backdrop that Roth himself came of age. Not surprisingly, then, Roth once again uses one of his lead characters as a proxy for his own self-discoveryówhich is a good reason to read him. On the other hand, his libido-driven male characters never do seem to mature and grow up, which makes for uncomfortable reading.

Markie eventually transfers out of Newarkís community college in order to escape his family problems, but he discovers that, even when heís away at Winesburg College in Ohio, heís still unable to escape himself and his myriad emotional weaknesses.

Itís at this point that Indignation becomes a more traditional and less sociological read. Markie fights with his roommates, has a run-in with a popular dean, and continues to struggle with his oh-so-naÔve libido. Heís also totally unforgiving of his would-be love interest, Olivia, and heís never able to come to terms with the fact that she has an active libido of her own.

In this respect, young Markie is as reprehensible as the older womanizing professor in Rothís earlier novel, The Dying Animal, which was recently made into the film Elegy, starring Ben Kingsley as yet another Rothian professor of desire.

The sub-theme of Indignation is that Markie also discovers that he canít escape the fact that his parents are Jewish, and that neither they nor he will ever be fully accepted into mainstream 1950s American culture. Yep, one more layer to an already overly conceptually complex novel.

Roth isnít an easy read, and itís easy to write him off as a novelist who has, himself, never emotionally matured, but that hasnít stopped him from continuing to add to his supply of literary trophies, including a Pulitzer Prize. So maybe youíre going to have to read him to find out for yourself what this guyís all about. My own opinion? The juryís still out, and perhaps thatís why Iíve had such a hard time writing this review.

Indignation is less precious than Rothís long ago Goodbye, Columbus and similar in tone to The Dying Animal. Nevertheless, Rothís novels are much sought after source material by Hollywood filmmakers. Perhaps itís because filmmakers, particularly independent filmmakers, canít seem to get enough angst. So stay tuned for the upcoming movie version of Indignation, because the producer of last yearís critical hit, No Country for Old Men, has already bought up the rights.

But as regular readers of Roth have already discovered, in his novels, itís no country for young men, either.

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