Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Human Stain

The Human Stain by Phillip Roth is one of the best books that I have ever read.  That is really high
praise coming from me-I have read a lot of books. 

The opening line is perfect to lead into the story:

"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."
 It turns out that this was not the first time that Coleman was involved in "scandulous behavior".  His retirement from Athena College came about when he was accused of racism after it became known that he had questioned in class one day "Do they exist or are they spooks?" about a couple of students who had never shown up for his class.  Unbeknownst to Coleman, the missing students were black.  Those who wanted to get rid of Coleman jumped on the wagon, and he was forced out. This part of the story seemed weak to me, but it was also quite meaningful as it turned out.

Following his retirement/forced resignation, Coleman's wife died (which he felt was caused by the charges of racism that were charged upon him and the subsequent ostracism of him by the college).  Thus as the opening line tells, Coleman began an affair with Faunia Farley, an illiterate, divorced woman, who had lost her two children in a fire.  She had been abused as a child and as a wife, so she came into the relationship with her own issues.

Coleman's neighbor, a writer named Nathan Zuckermann is the narrator of the story, beginning to end.  He came across Coleman life secret that Coleman had kept for over fifty years...kept from his wife and his four children, and all who knew him.  The secret that was Coleman's life.  The secret that he only told Faunia...and her reaction was a kind of "So?".  This secret that had become Coleman's identity, as it always had been from the start anyway.

I don't want to give away the secret.  But as it turns out, it's implications are stunning.

I read this book for one of my book groups.  We had a wonderful night of discussion!  There is just so much to this story.


Bybee said...

I really enjoyed this book, too. The movie version is well done, except Nicole Kidman seems a little out of place.

Sue F. said...

I am awaiting the movie to see how it compares to the book!