American Pastoral has three parts. Nathan Zuckerman is the first-person narrator of part 1, “Paradise Remembered,” but he then fades out of direct sight as the presumed omniscient narrator of part 2 (“The Fall”) and part 3 (“Paradise Lost”). In 1995, attending his forty-fifth high school reunion in Newark—a day of nostalgic recollections of youthful passions and follies, and a day of dark talk about prostates and bypasses—Zuckerman is shocked to learn from his old buddy, Jerry Levov, that Jerry’s older brother, Swede Levov, a former star high school athlete whom everyone idolized, has just died of cancer. Even more distressing is the news that the Swede’s only child, Merry, blew up a rural post office/grocery when she was sixteen, killing a local doctor, and then disappeared into the antiwar underground.
With this revelation, Zuckerman begins to re-create the Swede’s experience with his daughter, imagining Merry at eleven flirting with her father and teasing him into a brief but passionate kiss that immediately frightens him. Unfortunately, the daughter who delights her parents suffers from a severe stutter and starts stuffing herself with cheeseburgers, milk shakes, and french fries, while at the same time beginning to rage obscenely against Lyndon Johnson and capitalist America. Terrible scenes rock the Levovs’ aging stone house in Old Rimrock, New Jersey, most of them precipitated by Merry’s insistence on making weekend trips to New York City—where, her father senses, she is consorting with militants. Part one ends in 1968 with the explosion that kills Dr. Fred Conlon and destroys the...
(The entire section is 669 words.)