American Pastoral is a fantastic novel but I only made it through 75% of it until circumstances forced me to abandon reading it. I wanted to open up this review with two anecdotes about Philip Roth--one about a certain beach reader of The Plot Against America who made me feel like most people that like Philip Roth in fact suck as human beings (though I know from experience that it could not be true), and another about a friend who tried to stalk J.D. Salinger and instead got intercepted by the police and told me last time I was in New York that I had to read American Pastoral, that I wasn't aware what I was missing.
I know all too well what I am missing now and it makes it all the more painful to blog about this kind of material. In fact, what happened to me is appropriate to the book in a really sick way.
I made it about 300 pages through this novel. There were 422 pages or so and I was looking forward to putting the "420 test" to it, but I am reasonably sure it would not pass it. However, I happened to stay at a friend's house this weekend, and he happened to lend me the novel A Winter's Tale by Mark Halperin, a nearly 700 page behemoth, which I begrudgingly accepted. I put these into my messenger bag. We decided to see Terminator: Salvation the next day.
We did that and parked on the street because parking in that lot was deemed a ripoff. We found what looked like a good spot and I left my bag in the car because it seemed like a safe neighborhood. I never even thought twice about leaving my bag in any car in the past.
We watched the movie and deemed it "okay" (I even thought about posting a review of the movie during the first half hour or so until I realized it wouldn't be worth trying to untangle the plot) and walked back to the car. Out of the corner of my eye it looked like the passenger side window was opened in a weird way. My friend said, "We got broken into," and I ran up to my door in disbelief. I looked down to the floor and sure enough, the bag was gone. There was shattered glass all across the front two seats. They had left my Nalgene bottle. They had thrown a cement rock through the window specifically for my bag.
Inside my bag were the two books, one pair of prescription glasses, an empty glasses case, an Alfonso Soriano #12 blue Cubs t-shirt, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs CD It's Blitz and the Superchunk CD Leaves in the Gutter, my orange journal, (purchased in Florence for me by a friend that now couldn't care less about me, and besides, there wasn't much worth preserving in that journal anyways, more to be embarrassed by, and so not a cause of great concern for me) a notebook full of factual information that I had kept for the last six and a half years, seemingly unimportant but a great loss of contact information, and, most painful of all, one of the last few objects to give me pleasure in life, my iPod, 60 GB, nearly 12000 songs, still going strong after three years, my companion on countless hours of highway driving, an essential component of all exercises taking place in the last three years, gone.
American Pastoral is about a guy who seemingly has the perfect life only to give birth to a daughter that ends up becoming a "Weather Underground" type of revolutionary zealot that can't really provide convincing evidence that her behavior is justified when she wants to set off bombs and kill innocent people. It's a totally great novel and I liked it much more than Underworld (both published in 1997, both "runners-up in the Best Fiction of the last 25 years" thing alluded to in the Underworld review) and I can't wait to read the last 122 pages, but for me, this book will always symbolize what (pathetically) is one of the worst experiences of my life. If I wanted to replace that bag and its contents, I would need to spend more than $1000. As it is, American Pastoral was on loan from the library so I have to settle things with them. The loss for me has been extremely painful. People may find it pathetic to find someone so consumed by their possessions, but there were not many objects that I held important beyond those that I kept in that bag, and intrinsically, the bag itself, which garnered so many compliments from so many random people in the too-short two years I had it.
A huge loss, and a lesson learned--people will break into a car for a bag so long as they stand little chance of getting caught. This happened around 1:00 in the afternoon. I am deeply sorry to my friend who has to deal with getting his window repaired by insurance and I am deeply upset with the City of Chicago Police force (unless they miraculously return these items to me, which I highly doubt because in filing the report, there seemed to be massive problems with setting an address to the location of the crime) and the City of Chicago itself. It is ironic that in the beginning of American Pastoral there is talk about how horrible a city Newark is and how it has the highest incidence of car thefts in the nation. People say something much worse could have happened, and I'm sure it could have, but it doesn't take away from the fact that a huge part of my life was just taken away from me and I feel emotionally devastated by its absence.
So please, do not leave your bag in your car. The world is full of horrible people.