Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Human Stain - book review

Rating: 4/5

My first out-loud-laugh in this read:
"When we drink Organic Livestock milk, our body, soul, and spirit are getting nourished as a whole. Various organs in our body receive this wholeness and appreciate it in a way we may not perceive.” Sentences like that, sentences with which otherwise sensible adults, liberated from whatever vexation had driven them from New York or Hartford or Boston, can spend a pleasant few minutes at the desk pretending that they are seven years old."

Nathan Zuckerman, back in this novel about a friend he makes in his late sixties, disgraced Professor and ex-dean Coleman Silk who used the word “spooks” in a classroom to describe two absentee students who happened to be African Americans. It happened at the height of political correctness, over the backdrop of late 90’s America and the Clinton-Lewinski affair. Nathan befriends this man with whom he seems to have a lot in common, but Coleman’s past is shrouded in a secret and he has been, for half a century, hiding in plain sight. Eyes are upon him in this novel, Nathan’s as narrator, his 34-year-old illiterate mistress Faunia, Faunia’s Vietnam vet and PTSD victim ex-husband Les, a lonely and bewildered ex-colleague Delphine, and Coleman himself trying to hold his own life to his scrutiny in a failed attempt at defending himself from the howls of political correctness in novel form.

I really liked Nathan’s wisdom in this book. Nathan’s come a long way from the bumbling man he used to be in other books to the self-assured senior he is here, delving almost effortlessly into the psyches and languages of all the characters as he pieces together Coleman’s past and the forces hurtling him to his own peril. The writing is lyrical and evocative, at times blisteringly smart and never shying from the opprobrious or the cringeworthy.

When writing from the point-of-view of the Vietnam Vet, you can really feel the impotent, violent rage of the ex-soldier who doesn’t know what to be anymore, who needs to train at eating at a Chinese restaurant to be able to be around asian people without flipping a switch and going berserk. When in Faunia’s perspective, he paints a wonderful portrait of a woman who can’t read, will never make any sense of her life and whose fascination tends toward crows. And of course Coleman himself…

A great book. Not a word too much or too little, some amazing perspectives on a man whose life is at a dead end yet who feels sufficient indignation to follow Coleman’s story to its’ end and try to blow some justice into it.