Thursday, April 30, 2009

At the table was Jessie Orcutt, seated before a half-empty dessert plate and an untouched glass of milk and holding in her hand a fork whose tines were tipped red with blood. She had stabbed at him with it. The girl at the sink was telling them this. The other girl had run screaming out of the house, so there was just the one still in the kitchen to recount the story as best she could through her tears. Because Mrs. Orcutt would not eat, the girl said, Mr. Levov had started to feed Mrs. Orcutt the pie himself, a bite at a time. he was explaining to her how much better it was for her to drink milk instead of Scotch whiskey, how much better for herself, how much better for her husband, how much better for children. soon she would be having grandchildren and it would be better for them. With each bite she swallowed he said, "Yes, Jessie good girl, Jessie very good girl," and told her how much better it would be for everybody in the world, even for Mr. levov and his wife, if Jessie gave up drinking. After he had fed her almost all of one whole slice of the strawberry-rhubarb pie, she had siad, "I feed Jessie," and he was so happy, so pleased with her, he laughed and handed over the fork, and she had gone right for his eye.
It turned out she'd missed it by no more than an inch. "Not bad," Marcia said to everyone in the kitchen, "for somebody as drunk as this babe is." Meanwhile Orcutt, appalled by a scene exceeding any previously contrived by his wife to humiliate her civic-minded, adulterous mate, who looked not at all invincible, not at all important to himself or anyone else, who looked just as silly as he had the morning the Swede had dumped him in the midst of their friendly football game--Orcutt tenderly lifted Jessie up from the chair and to her feet. She showed no remorse, none, seemed to have been stripped of all receptors and all transmitters, without a single cell to notitfy her that she had overstepped a boundary fundamental to civilized life.
"One drink less," Marcia was saying to the Swede's father, whose wife was already dabbing at the tiny wounds in his face with a damp napkin, "and you'd be blind, Lou." And then this large, unimpeded social critic in a caftan could not help herself. Marcia sank into Jessie's empty chair, in front of the brimming glass of milk, and with her face in her hands, she began to laugh at their obtuseness to the flimsines of the whole contraption, to laugh and laugh and laugh at them all, pillars of a society that, much to her delight, was going rapidly under--to laugh and to relish, as some people, historically, always seem to do, how far the rampant disorder had spread, enjoying enormously the assailability, the frailty, the enfeeblement of supposedly robust things.
Yes, the breach had been pounded in their fortification, even out here in secure Old Rimrock, and now that it was opened it would not be closed again. They'll never recover. Everything is against them, everyone and everything that does not like their life. All the voices from without, condemning and rejecting their life!
And what is wrong with their life? What on earth is less reprehensible than the life of the levovs?

--American Pastoral, Philip Roth (1997)



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