“I read this with the Thursday night group in Lincoln Park. The story tells of Swede Levov, whose life is cast into the fires of the nineteen-sixties. The narrator is a familiar Rothian figure: writer Nathan Zuckerman (of The Ghost Writer, et al.). Nathan is now in his early 60s, essentially retired, Nathan is approached by a high-school classmate's older brother—and the well-remembered hero of his youth: Seymour "Swede" Levov, once a blue-eyed athletic and moral paragon who strode through life with ridiculous ease, now nearing 70 and crushed by outrageous misfortunes. Swede asks his help writing a tribute to his late father, and soon thereafter dies himself. Piqued by the enigma of a seemingly perfect life (superb health, a successful family business, marriage to a former beauty queen) inexplicably gone wrong, Zuckerman "dream[s] a realistic chronicle" that reconstructs Swede's life—compounded of information gleaned from others who knew him, and centering in the 1960s when Swede's life began to unravel. His only daughter Meredith ("Merry") had rebelled against her parents' and her culture's complacency, protested against the war in Vietnam, claimed responsibility for a terrorist bombing in which innocent people were killed, and gone "underground" as a fugitive.
The Swede's glove factory almost did me in as I had an overwhelming desire to never read another sentence about the leather trade. But perhaps this over the top presentation was necessary to persuade the reader that Swede is unable or has insufficient means to comprehend the Newark riots of 1967. Many of the scenes are intensely emotional conversations in which the conflicting claims of social solidarity and individual integrity are debated with pained immediacy. Here, and in more conventionally expository authorial passages, meditativeness and discursiveness predominate over drama. Nevertheless, passion seethes through the novel's pages. This is some of the best pure writing Roth has done. A writer who is unafraid to linger in the minds of furious men, he leads us fearlessly through this man's grief, bewilderment and rage, and perhaps through the history of that era.”