Wildness and the indigenous American berserk

Pierce on today’s shootings in Texas:

There is a wildness in the land that is being exacerbated daily by economic conditions that nobody in the governing elite seems to understand. Neither do they understand the wildness, because it hasn’t touched them. Yet. There is a wildness in the land that is exacerbated daily by the country’s pig-ignorance in licensing and controlling its firearms that nobody in the governing elite seems to understand. Neither do they understand the wildness.

Bill Morris on Philip Roth (inter alia):

…as a close friend never tires of reminding me, “The truly weird shit rarely happens in big cities; it almost always happens in small towns and suburbia and the boondocks.”  I have come to believe that while this is not an iron-clad fact – the Son of Sam was terrorizing New York City during the summer of 1977 – it does pick at the scab of something approaching an unpleasant truth.  I’m thinking about Dick Hickock and Perry Smith slaughtering the Clutter family in their remote western Kansas farmhouse, a horror immortalized by Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.  I’m thinking about Joan Didion’s unforgettable piece of reportage, “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream,” which tells the story of how weather and dislocation and history (or lack of it) led a pregnant mother of three to douse her sleeping husband with gasoline and burn him to death inside the family Volkswagen on a desolate stretch of southern California desert.  Twenty miles from where I’m writing these words, police have just discovered the remains of the tenth victim of a possible serial killer on a remote Long Island beach.   A few weeks ago a woman in the small upstate town of Newburgh drove into the Hudson River with three of her children in the car, killing them all.  Such acts have become emblematic of what Walker Percy called these “dread latter days of the old violent beloved U.S.A.”

In American Pastoral, Philip Roth puts a name to these dark American impulses.  The novel tells the story of a sensationally handsome and athletic Jewish boy from Newark named Seymour “Swede” Levov who marries a former Miss New Jersey, takes over his father’s thriving glove factory, and moves with his wife and daughter into a stone farmhouse in Old Rimrock, out past the suburbs, out in the gorgeous green folds of an America that still looks much as it looked before the Revolutionary War.  There in 1968, as a way of protesting the Vietnam War, the Swede’s teenage daughter, a life-long stutterer, plants a bomb in the local post office that kills a respected doctor, forcing the girl to go underground and effectively demolishing the Swede’s immaculate world.  Roth writes that the Swede becomes the victim of something unthinkable:

…the angry, rebarbative spitting-out daughter with no interest whatever in being the next successful Levov, flushing him out of hiding as if he were a fugitive – initiating the Swede into the displacement of another America entirely, the daughter and the decade blasting to smithereens his particular form of utopian thinking, the plague America infiltrating the Swede’s castle and there infecting everyone.  The daughter who transports him out of the longed-for American pastoral and into everything that is its antithesis and its enemy, into the fury, the violence, and the desperation of the counterpastoral – into the indigenous American berserk.

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