An exploration of the life, with all its secrets and ambiguities, of a once respected, recently disgraced academic, this book is also a metaphor for American society in the 1990s. The point of view is complex; the whole book is narrated by a semi-autobiographical character, Nathan Zuckerman (who also appears in other Roth books), but incorporates several monologues, such as the frightening rantings of a war-damaged Vietnam vet. Despite the overall gloomy prognosis of the life and times of its hero, it ends on an uplifting note.
It was in the summer of 1998 that my neighbor Coleman Silk - who, before retiring two years earlier, had been a classics professor at nearby Athena College for some twenty-odd years as well as serving for sixteen more as the dean of faculty - confided to me that, at the age of seventy-one, he was having an affair with a thirty-four-year-old cleaning woman who worked down at the college. Twice a week she also cleaned the rural post office, a small gray clapboard shack that looked as if it might have sheltered an Okie family from the winds of the Dust Bowl back in the 1930s and that, sitting alone and forlorn across from the gas station and the general store, flies its American flag at the junction of the two roads that mark the commercial center of this mountainside town.