Silk’s Iliad

08/09/2009

RothStainThe Human Stain

by Philip Roth

Rage – Goddess, sing the rage of Coleman Silk.

Lives unravel.  Threads catch on unforeseen misfortune and the lace of our lives falls apart.  Philip Roth’s novel, The Human Stain, is the story of one such unraveling, that of college classics professor Coleman Silk.  It is also about the unraveling of three other lives: college janitor and Silk’s mistress, Faunia Farley; Faunia’s ex-husband and Vietnam War veteran Lester Farley; and, to a lesser extent, the woman who succeeded Coleman as Dean of Language and Literature at Athena college upon his resignation in disgrace, herself a model of institutionalised intelligence, equipped with the parlance of both the cynical graduate and French gentility, the woman Delphine Roux.  Roth, with his grand irony, weaves together the stories of these unweavings with his consummate hand, building in layers and daedalan braids an intricate web of dissolute threads, reminding us in the end that for the lives of all of us, for the most proud and humble alike, it is Klotho who spins the threads, Lakhesis who measures them out and Atropos who holds the shears.

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