I brought home from our cruise through Eastern Europe a form of influenza that bludgeoned me with huge bouts of sleep. I slept for three weeks.
My waking hours were chaotic. Up at 3 a.m.
TV was my faithful companion.
I watched the film “The Human Stain,” written by Philip Roth. I have read a good deal of Roth. In fact, I glutted on Roth at one time; that’s the way it is with Roth. I had forgotten this novel and wanted a refresher.
Summary. Anthony Hopkins is Coleman Silk, the dean and professor of Classics at a small college.
He tells his story to his alter ego/narrator, Nathan Zuckerman (Gary Sinise) who appears in many of Roth’s novels and who will write this story.
The story begins. One day in class Coleman vents on the two students who have never come to class. “They are ‘spooks,” he says. It turns out those absent students are black and accuse the professor of being a racist. Political Correctness is raging. Silk is fired. The irony is that he is black himself, “passing” for the last 50 years as white and Jewish. When accused of racism, he never speaks up about living a lie (he has 4 children and a wife who has a heart attack over the racist lie and dies).
Coleman enters an affair with a sexually loose, semi-literate Nicole Kidman (Faunia) who was abused by her stepfather, and whose mother didn’t believe her, and later her unbalanced Vietnam veteran husband (Ed Harris) stalks her and accuses her of the fire that burned her two children to death).
Faunia has three menial jobs to keep busy. “Action keeps a person from thinking,” she says. Both Coleman and Faunia relate to each other by their circumstances, instead of their class differences which ordinarily would be insurmountable. (Aside from racism, class differences would be a stain in itself.)
We think of the term “The Human Condition” as applying to all people’s circumstances, luck, failures, and possibilities of redemption. The title of the film/novel connotes family stains, from which a person cannot free himself. Both Coleman and Faunia are trapped, and commit suicide together by driving off the road.
How could I have forgotten this novel? you ask. The answer is that it was the last novel of Roth’s that I read, after ‘An American Pastoral” which I thought was his very best, and I was running out of steam.
After I wrote my novel “An Incident in the Family,” which amazingly took only a few months, I opened the door to writing a collection of short stories.
I’m thinking of putting one of the stories on Amazon for $2.99 to see if it flies.
Facebook has been excavating my old articles, and some of them are pertinent. Here's one (Jan 18, 2012) that recently surfaced that I think you will like:
The Phenomenon of Choosing a Young Protagonist
How many novels begin with a protagonist who is nineteen or twenty years old? I dare say, most novels. How many books come with the title of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man! Almost every writer deep into advanced maturity, at one point, reaches backward to those early years. What is the fascination for a protagonist who is naive, innocent, inexperienced and completely vulnerable?
Even the mature person who leads a rich, exciting life, full of conquest and achievement, a profoundly interesting life, even that person, is interested in the young life. Why?
Robert Frost explains it in his poem, “The Road not Taken”
which is written in the past tense—at the end of the road, not at the outset. The traveler looks back, “I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”
The traveler is ever curious about the other road, the road not taken.
We writers wind up the young protagonist and set him/her upon a road. Then writers and readers alike watch with curiosity, with an adventurous spirit, like voyeurs, wishfully dreaming about the other road. One road is simply not enough.