A Human Platitude Who Radiates Blandness

In Chapter 1 of American Pastoral by Philip Roth, two gentlemen are having dinner, and one guy describes the other — who's stunningly handsome, athletic, successful — this way:

I was impressed, as the meal wore on, by how assured he seemed of everything commonplace he said, and how everything he said was suffused by his good nature. I kept waiting for him to lay bare something more than this pointed unobjectionableness, but all that rose to the surface was more surface. What he has instead of a being, I thought, is blandness — the guy's radiant with it. He has devised for himself an incognito, and the incognito has become him. Several times during the meal I didn't think I was going to make it, didn't think I'd get to dessert if he was going to keep praising his family and praising his family…until I began to wonder if it wasn't that he was incognito but that he was mad.

Something was on top of him that had called a halt to him. Something had turned him into a human platitude. Something had warned him: You must not run counter to anything.

A helluva piece of writing, and captures the emotion I have felt when listening to some over-assured guy talk over dinner about how much he loves his family. Rare outward facing comments are doused in political correctness. You want to reach across the table (even if it means knocking over a glass or two), grab his shoulders with each hand, and give him a good shake.

The description continues:

To respect everything one is supposed to respect; to protest nothing; never to be inconvenienced by self-distrust; never to be enmeshed in obsession, tortured by incapacity, poisoned by resentment, driven by anger…life just unraveling for the Swede like a fluffy ball of yarn.

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