The film stars Ewan McGregor as Swede Levov, a charmed man who seems to be living the perfect American Dream. But then 1968 rolls around, and his once-loving daughter Merry (Dakota Fanning) commits a political crime that kills an innocent bystander and blows up Swede’s once perfect world. Now, Swede’s marriage is in trouble, his daughter is on the run, and he has to confront the reality of what the ‘American Pastoral’ truly means. The book is dark, compelling and compassionate, and the film promises to live up to its status as a modern classic.
But once the movie ends, don’t despair, here are three other books that capture the spirit and the uneasy times of Roth’s masterpiece:
The Girls, Emma Cline (Random House, June 14, 2016)
We can definitely see echoes of Pastoral’s troubled daughter Merry in the girls who get swept along by a Manson-esque cult that’s at the heart of Cline’s bestselling novel. Similarly set at the end of the 1960s, The Girls follows Evie Boyd, a lost teen who’s looking for acceptance and love. She discovers it in a California-based cult and the girls who devote themselves to the dangerous, but alluring leader. Just like Merry, Evie quickly finds herself in over her head, on a path that’s headed swiftly toward violence and the end of the free-love movement.
The Nix, Nathan Hill (Knopf, August 30, 2016)
Pastoral is all about the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, and the social upheaval that the decades brought, particularly to the American family. We see the same themes emerge in The Nix, which tells the story of assistant professor Samuel Andresen-Anderson, who ends up on a crazy adventure to discover the truth of his mother’s past. Samuel is underachieving in most ways, obsessed with gaming, and has a stalled out writing career. But when his mother gets arrested, he eventually finds himself writing her life story. In order to do so, he has to dive back into the past, examining the counter-culture revolution of the ‘60s, and his own thwarted love. The result is a novel that’s hilarious, a little nuts, and compulsively readable. You can read our full review, here.
Another Brooklyn, Jacqueline Woodson (Amistad Press, August 9, 2016)
Just as Pastoral delves into the different faces of New Jersey (moving from the idyllic suburbs to rough, inner-city Newark), Another Brooklyn brings the same close eye to Brooklyn in the 1970s. Woodson explores the character of August, who looks back on the hope — and despair — that she and her friends found growing up in their neighborhood in Brooklyn. August is part of a pack of three other girls who bond through Double Dutch, disco and their shared dreams. But their neighborhood can also be a trap, and each girl ends up on a different path, some that include drugs, abuse, racism and more. This is a novel about friendship, growing up, and about how our origins continue to affect our futures.