Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Letting Go is a book about literature, filled with literary references. The characters in the novel partially define themselves by the books that they have read. The novel focuses on the young academic crowd of the decade of the 1950’s—particularly on three characters: Gabe Wallach, a young instructor in the humanities, and his friends Paul and Libby Herz.
Apparently, Philip Roth intended Gabe to be a Jamesian hero: the man with an independent income, living a good life, with a career that he cares about, but always wrestling with a vague guilt. The story of Gabe’s tribulations with his family and friends is complex and compassionate, but the telling often is bogged down in excessive detail. Roth displays here, as he would again and again throughout his career, his infallible ear for American and Jewish-American dialogue. Too much of a good thing, however, can weigh down the best-conceived story.
Much of the story is told in flashbacks, as the reader learns how the characters reached the points where the narrative picks them up. The lives of these characters have not been easy. The Herzes, particularly, have been disaster-prone. A mixed marriage (Paul is Jewish, Libby, Catholic) has built-in stresses, but these are part of a larger pattern: The Herzes struggle endlessly with every aspect of their lives. Although Libby is Catholic, when she becomes pregnant she has to have an abortion because of their economic situation and her...
(The entire section is 362 words.)
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