This was the second short novel in the Roth omnibus I read and I think it might be the best in the book; it’s very much in a dead heat with Nemesis, the final novel in the book, but if a gun was to my head, I’d go with this one. But this one is the tale of Marcus Messner, a young college boy, desperately trying to escape his father’s over-protective neuroses and find a way to get along in a college he finds himself hating. It’s set during the Korean War and there’s the constant specter of death hanging over the story, because if Marcus should be kicked out of school, he’ll get snapped up in the draft. Roth’s characterizations here are just brilliant. Marcus is an infuriating, pompous, neurotic narrator. Dean Caudwell is a self-righteous, but brilliant, prig. And I found it quite interesting that Roth, never an author particularly gifted at crafting female characters, creates probably the best character in the entire book in Olivia Hutton, a troubled co-ed; the way her character unfolds over the course of the novel is fascinating and beautifully done. The book is just so perfectly written with several wonderful scenes. A debate about atheism between Messner and the Dean is a standout, as is a sexual liaison in a hospital. It’s a book I roared with laughter over and found myself ultimately devastated by. Roth really captures the character of Messner and the way in which he lives his life in a perpetual state of seething anger (the indignation of the title) perfectly; it’s a sharp, merciless excision of self-destructive behavior, both a screed and a tragedy at the same time. And there’s even something here that I’m not even going to hint at, because it’s a moment you need to experience yourself, a moment when everything spins on its axis in a way things rarely do in literature and I found myself with my jaw literally hanging open in shock and awe. Indignation is nothing short of a masterpiece, full stop. Highly recommended. 4 stars.
tl;dr – masterful short novel finds the typically excellent Roth operating on an even higher plane; sharp, merciless, gripping and wonderfully characterized. 4 stars.