An Amer­i­can Type

Hen­ry Roth; Will­ing David­son, ed.
  • Review
By – September 19, 2011
Set in 1938, leg­endary nov­el­ist Hen­ry Roth’s posthu­mous­ly released final work is a pow­er­ful reflec­tion on the social cli­mate of pre-war Amer­i­ca. A con­tin­u­a­tion of Mer­cy of a Rude Stream, the nov­el fol­lows the com­ing- of-age expe­ri­ences of Ira Stig­man, Roth’s alter-ego pro­tag­o­nist. Ira is dis­sat­is­fied in both his roman­tic life and in his lit­er­ary career — feel­ing emo­tion­al­ly dis­tant from his old­er lover, Edith, and suf­fer­ing from severe writer’s block. While vis­it­ing Yad­do, the artists’ colony, Ira falls for M, an ele­gant, mys­te­ri­ous pianist. Unset­tled by the state of his per­son­al affairs, he sets out on a jour­ney from New York City to Los Ange­les. Through­out, Roth’s numer­ous tal­ents are on dis­play, treat­ing the read­er to vivid char­ac­ter­i­za­tions and live­ly dia­logue. We sense Ira’s vital­i­ty — his Jew­ish iden­ti­ty, his waver­ing con­fi­dence in his art, his immi­grant roots— and we grow extra­or­di­nar­i­ly close to him. The novel’s final moments dark­ly con­vey Ira’s pain in dra­mat­i­cal­ly-wrought prose. Writ­ten in the final years of Roth’s life, as he was mourn­ing the death of his wife and in fail­ing health, the nov­el orig­i­nal­ly stood at near­ly two thou­sand man­u­script pages. Charged with a pro­found­ly intri­cate assign­ment, New York­er edi­tor Will­ing David­son suc­ceeds in his recon­fig­u­ra­tion of the project, which retains Roth’s unique voice and effort­less style. Davidson’s respect for Hen­ry Roth’s artis­tic vision helps to cement this work as the dynam­ic final opus in what was a vir­tu­osic writ­ing career.
Penin­nah Schram, well-known sto­ry­teller & author, is Pro­fes­sor of Speech and Dra­ma at Yeshi­va Uni­ver­si­ty’s Stern Col­lege. Her lat­est book is an illus­trat­ed anthol­o­gy, The Hun­gry Clothes and Oth­er Jew­ish Folk­tales (Ster­ling Pub­lish­ing) and a CD, The Min­strel & the Sto­ry­teller, with singer/​guitarist Ger­ard Edery (Sefarad Records). She is a recip­i­ent of a Covenant Award for Out­stand­ing Jew­ish Edu­ca­tor and the 2003 Nation­al Sto­ry­telling Net­work’s Life­time Achieve­ment Award.

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