Thursday, October 27, 2016

Review of "When She Was Good" by Philip Roth


 

Lucy Nelson had a difficult childhood. Along with her timid, submissive mother and her alcoholic, n’er do well father, Lucy lived with her mom’s parents. To make things worse, grandpa enabled the dad's bad behavior, continually urging the family to give the wife-hitting hubby "second chances." Finally, fed up and angry, Lucy had her father arrested and then - some time later - locked him out of the house and sent him on his way.

Through it all Lucy dreamed of going to college and making something of herself, working after school to help make it happen. Things seemed to be going okay when teen Lucy developed a crush on her friend’s cousin Roy. Roy was a little older, an army veteran with ambitions to be a photographer. Unfortunately for all concerned Roy succumbed to his baser nature and repeatedly urged Lucy to “trust him.” Before long Lucy was pregnant and reluctantly married to Roy.

Lucy, having her own ambitions thwarted, seemed determined to ruin Roy’s life as well. Their poisonous union makes up the bulk of the story. Other characters, including Lucy’s family, Roy’s extended family, Lucy’s friends, and Lucy’s one-time priest, try to influence the situation at one time or another, generally making things worse.

The book isn’t fun to read. In the beginning I felt sorry for Lucy, seeing her as the unhappy victim of a raw deal. However Lucy became a completely unpleasant, unlikable character. And Roy - though he "made his own bed" and got a bit of what he deserved - was generally a spineless wimp, incapable of standing up to his demanding, controlling wife….until he did. This led to major drama in which Lucy evolved into a true sociopath.

Though it’s interesting to read about these psychologically warped characters I can’t highly recommend the book. Philip Roth’s later work is better.

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