A handful of random Roth thoughts, having now finished Indignation. (No, I'm not going to tell you what I thought, at least not yet.)
1) In the novel, the Newark-born Jewish protagonist (sound familiar) heads out to the sticks, attending college in Winesburg, Ohio. Now, we can all assume that Roth makes no decisions – especially one so obvious – lightly, so it seems to me that in order to properly read Indignation, one needs to read Winesburg, Ohio. Which I haven't. But I am now. This is how I work my reviews. One book invariably leads to another. It's part of the fun, undoubtedly, but can also exponentially increase the work involved.
2) In recent interviews, Peter Carey and Andrew Sean Greer complained about reviews that betrayed a key secret of their respective novels. Well, Indignation affords a similar opportunity for betrayal – there's a key story element/twist, and it will be interesting to see how other reviewers, as well as I, deal with it. The problem is you can contort a review into coy knots to avoid revealing these things, but you end up, I think, with a review that doesn't really engage with the book. It speaks, I suppose, to what kind of review one is writing – a mere consumer report (buy or don't buy), in which case, one should preserve secrets as much as possible; or a thoughtful engagement with a piece of work, which, it seems to me, simply can't be done when you're forever holding one closed palm behind your back. I'm not entirely sure what I will do here, other than announce load and clear that a major spoiler is coming if I chose to reveal something.
3) Thinking about Roth's familiar touches, motifs repeated, things like that, I thought that an instructive comparison might be made to Picasso. Besides a lifelong fascination with sex (with a dose of terrified mortality thrown in near the end), the symbols of Picasso's art were always personal, almost narcissistic: His lovers, his family, his personal iconography – bulls, harlequins, matadors – put a personal stamp on his body of work that bears some resemblance to Roth's own concerns. The so-called political The Plot Against America – of which Roth has disavowed political readings – can be instructively compared to Guernica which, despite its inspiration, is a resolutely personal work. (Something, incidentally, Picasso has been criticized for.) Just a connection noted.