Andrea Lee's Bookshelf
By Philip Roth
I'm a sucker for novellas. This story of the doomed summer romance of Brenda Patimkin—the original Jewish princess—of Short Hills, New Jersey, and Neil Klugman, the poor librarian from Newark, was published when Roth was 26, and it has the crisp assurance of young genius. With a light touch, Roth takes on big contemporary themes—race, religion, social class, the generation gap, the price of following the American Dream. Neil's temptation in a world of swimming pools and nose jobs and suburban splendor is not a small one: to give up his freedom, and probably his immortal soul, in exchange for the golden girl, Brenda. Yet none of this weighs on the reader; we spend our time laughing at nouveau riche antics, or bedazzled by Roth's enchanting imagery (Brenda's graceful head and neck as a long-stemmed rose; the Patimkin basement refrigerator as a cornucopia of fruit). Roth went on to produce greater works—Portnoy's Complaint, The Human Stain, The Plot Against America come to mind—but he has never again written with such high spirits.