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Redemption: The Life of Henry Rothby Steven G. Kellman
Synopses & Reviews
Henry Roth (1906-1995), author of the great immigrant novel , is one of the giants of American literature, yet for years he has lacked a biography. After completing his first book in 1934, Roth lapsed into a legendary six-decade silence, only to reemerge with , hailed as "a landmark of the American literary century" (David Mehegan, ) and "as provocative as anything in the chapters of St. Augustine" (Stefan Kanfer, Book Review). In following Roth's tortured life from his childhood on the Jewish Lower East Side to his twilight years in New Mexico, literary critic Steven Kellman has uncovered FBI files, spoken with family members and friends, and gained access to the tape in which Roth discussed the long-buried incest of his youth. is the Shakespearean saga of a great writer doomed to a life of psychological torment, but saved in the end by his search for deliverance.
"The obvious hurdle in writing a biography of Roth (1906 — 1995) is the 60-year gap between his first novel, the Jewish immigrant, stream-of-consciousness classic Call It Sleep (1934), and his second, the four-volume Mercy of a Rude Stream (1994 — 1998). Kellman, an English professor and author of seven previous scholarly works, makes a strong case against writer's block as the reason for the long silence, pointing out that Roth pitched short stories to the New Yorker for years (with intermittent success). Instead, he suggests, Roth deliberately withdrew from writing rather than allow his autobiographical fiction to confront his worst adolescent shames: expulsion from high school for stealing and a prolonged incestuous relationship with his sister. Kellman's account of Roth's early life draws extensively on the Mercy of a Rude Stream, created from thousands of manuscript pages Roth produced in his final years, and carefully details how they were prepared for publication, blaming editorial missteps for the slightly disappointed reaction of critics surprised by the author's new, more naturalistic voice. After the excitement of Roth's life before Call It Sleep — his Lower East Side childhood, the incest, involvement with an older woman — however, the long, often painfully frustrating decades that follow may make readers wish he'd hurry up and start writing again. Despite occasionally overplaying the drama, Kellman gives readers a thoughtful and objective perspective on Roth's life." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Book News Annotation:
Roth has been acclaimed as one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century but racked up plenty of years and mileage between 1934's Call It Sleep and his second major work, 1994's Mercy of a Rude Stream. Before the former was life as an immigrant child in constant conflict with his father and Judaism. Between was life as an artists' colony denizen and a duck farmer in Maine, during which the only constants were depression, the devotion of his wife, and a staggering, legendary case of writer's block. Shortly after the latter publication came death, but that death was ennobled by Roth's resolution to release the masterpiece that had been gathering inside him while he tended ducks. Kellman (comparative literature, U. of Texas, San Antonio) uses a range of materials, including interviews, personal papers and FBI reports.
Annotation ©2005 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
A penetrating biography of an unheralded master of American fiction.
About the Author
Steven G. Kellman teaches English at the University of Texas at San Antonio and is the co-author of Into the Tunnel: Readings of Gass's Novel, a study of poet William Gass.
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