American Pastoral, by Philip Roth (Vintage, £6.99 in UK)

 

Yet again Roth calls upon the services of Nathan Zuckerman, famous novelist and Roth alter-ego. But this is not another romp through the well-worn litany of Roth self-obsessions. Zuckerman, having experienced a whiff of mortality, has acquired knowledge and perception. Above all, he has learned to look beyond himself. The result is a haunting elegy about the souring of one man's American Dream, and a lament for lived lives, and for America itself. Possibly the most widely - and deservedly - internationally praised novel of 1997, this is Roth's finest, most mature work. It also justifies his reputation, which has to a large extent been built on his self-created myth of the great Jewish writer hunted by avaricious women. Zuckerman tells the story of a man who had been a high school sports hero and subsequently has spent his life sub-burdened by that responsibility. The grace and rigour of Roth's prose, the exasperated humour and depth of feeling worthy of Updike, move and surprise.

Never before has Roth achieved such a strong sense of having listened to other people.