Neil Klugman is twenty-three and Jewish. He works at a public library and lives with his Aunt Gladys and Uncle Max, as his parents have moved to Arizona because of their asthma. Neil first meets Brenda Patimkin, also Jewish, a student at Radcliffe College in Boston, Massachusetts, at a country club swimming pool, to which he has been invited by his cousin. Brenda asks him to hold her glasses while she dives into the pool. He later calls her, and they arrange to meet at the tennis courts. She invites him to dinner with her parents the next day. Neil meets Brenda’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Patimkin, her brother Ron, and her ten-year-old sister Julie. Neil lives in a working class section of Newark, New Jersey, whereas the Patimkins live in a large home in an upper-middle-class suburb. Except for Mrs. Patimkin, every member of the family is almost constantly preoccupied with sports, such as golf, basketball, ping pong, and so on. Neil and Brenda go out every night together for two weeks, and she later invites him to stay at her house for a week during his summer vacation. Whereas Neil officially stays in the guest room, he and Brenda secretly sleep together every night in her bedroom. Brenda invites Neil to stay a second week, during which the family is preoccupied with making plans for her brother Ron’s imminent wedding. One day, Neil suggests to Brenda that she get a diaphragm. She does not want to, but eventually agrees. At the end of the second week, Neil attends the wedding, where he meets Mr. Patimkin’s half-brother, Leo, who drunkenly talks to Neil about his family and their financial situation. Soon after the wedding, Neil drives Brenda to the train station to go back to college in Boston. For several weeks, they communicate by letter and phone, until she invites him up to Boston for the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Neil’s Aunt Gladys cries at the news that he will not be with his family for the holiday. Neil meets up with Brenda, and the two check into a hotel under the names “Mr. and Mrs. Klugman.” But, as soon as they enter the hotel room, Brenda tells Neil that her mother has found her diaphragm in a drawer under a pile of sweaters. She shows Neil two letters she has received, one from her father and one from her mother, expressing their dismay at this discovery. Brenda insists that she can barely face her parents after this, let alone continue to see Neil. Neil picks up his bag and leaves the hotel. He wanders around the Harvard campus and stops outside the library, where he contemplates his own image in the mirror of the darkened window. He catches the train back to Newark, “just as the sun was rising on the first day of the Jewish New Year,” and in time to make it to work.
Jennifer Smith – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 12, Philip Roth, Published by Gale Group, 2001.