With respect to American literature, the nineties belonged to Philip Roth. Aside from the remarkable accomplishment of producing a major literary work every other year, Roth's first four novels of the decade constituted a literary grand slam, receiving, in turn, the four major American literary awards: Patrimony
, the 1991 National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography/Autobiography; Operation Shylock
, the 1994 PEN/Faulkner Award; Sabbath's Theater
, the 1995 National Book Award; and American Pastoral
, the 1998 Pulitzer Prize. But even though the literary establishment could not have devised a more clear seal of approval, Roth remains (ever since his 1969 satiric masterpiece, Portnoy's Complaint
, caused many Jews to declare Roth a Jewish anti-Semite) one of our most controversial novelists. In I Married a Communist
Roth has again managed to trip up his would be admirers. Is this story of a famous actress who publicly denounces her husband in order to destroy his reputation a cheap, thinly-veiled revenge novel, as many claimed? Roth's own wife, actress Claire Bloom, painted a decidedly anti-pastel portrait of their 18-year marriage in her memoir Leaving a Doll's House
. Or is I Married a Communist
a skillful and insightful portrait of that period in American history most commonly defined against the hysterical obsessions of Joseph McCarthy? The answer is, of course, both, which in this case only increases the novel's interest. While brilliantly exposing the complex roles both innocence and obsession have played in our national history, Roth (inadvertently?) reveals something of the role these have played in his own life. Is this cheap cowardice or courageous honesty? Either way, I Married a Communist
is a major installment from a brilliant novelist clearly at the top of his form. Farley
Synopses & Reviews
I Married a Communist
is the story of the rise and fall of Ira Ringold, a big American roughneck who begins life as a teenage ditch-digger in 1930s Newark, becomes a big-time 1940s radio star, and is destroyed, as both a performer and a man, in the McCarthy witchhunt of the 1950s.
In his heyday as a star—and as a zealous, bullying supporter of "progressive" political causes—Ira marries Hollywood's beloved silent-film star, Eve Frame. Their glamorous honeymoon in her Manhattan townhouse is shortlived, however, and it is the publication of Eve's scandalous bestselling exposé that identifies him as "an American taking his orders from Moscow."
In this story of cruelty, betrayal, and revenge spilling over into the public arena from their origins in Ira's turbulent personal life, Philip Roth—who Commonweal calls the "master chronicler of the American twentieth century—has written a brilliant fictional protrayal of that treacherous postwar epoch when the anti-Communist fever not only infected national politics but traumatized the intimate, innermost lives of friends and families, husbands and wives, parents and children.
"I Married a Communist is filled with passages as fine and sharp as anything Roth has ever written (which is to say, as fine and sharp as anything in contemporary American literature)." The Village Voice Literary Supplement
"This powerful novel leaves me haunted by the isolation in which each character, not just Ira, stands in history. The book's final page tells of the stars, whose brilliance is matched only by their apartness. A classic image to close this new novel by one of the real ones." Robert Kelly, The New York Times Book Review
"His latest novel is a bitter, often funny, always engrossing story that wonderfully evokes a time and place in our common past...What I Married a Communist tells us above all is that Philip Roth is very much with us as a writer, every bit as contemporary and vital as he was when he began...Philip Roth remains as edgy, as furious, as funny, and as dangerous as he was 40 yeares ago." Robert Stone,
New York Review of Books
Radio actor Iron Rinn (born Ira Ringold) is a big Newark roughneck blighted by a brutal personal secret from which he is perpetually in flight. An idealistic Communist, a self-educated ditchdigger turned popular performer, a six-foot six-inch Abe Lincoln look-alike, he marries the nation's reigning radio actress and beloved silent-film star, the exquisite Eve Frame (born Chava Fromkin). Their marriage evolves from a glamorous, romantic idyll into a dispiriting soap opera of tears and treachery. And with Eve's dramatic revelation to the gossip columnist Bryden Grant of her husband's life of "espionage" for the Soviet Union, the relationship enlarges from private drama into national scandal.
Set in the heart of the McCarthy era, the story of Iron Rinn's denunciation and disgrace brings to harrowing life the human drama that was central to the nation's political tribulations in the dark years of betrayal, the blacklist, and naming names. I Married a Communist is an American tragedy as only Philip Roth can conceive one--fierce and funny, eloquently rendered, and politically accurate.
A New York Times Notable Book
From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of American Pastoral, I Married a Communist is the story of the rise and fall of Ira Ringold, a big American roughneck who begins life as a teenage ditch-digger in 1930s Newark, becomes a big-time 1940s radio star, and is destroyed, as both a performer and a man, in the McCarthy witchhunt of the 1950s.
In his heyday Ira marries Hollywood's beloved silent-film star, Eve Frame. Their glamorous honeymoon in her Manhattan townhouse is shortlived, however, and it is the publication of Eve's scandalous bestselling exposé that openly identifies him as a Communist spy and saboteur.
In this story of cruelty, betrayal, and revenge spilling over into the public arena from their origins in Ira's turbulent personal life, Philip Roth has written a brilliant fictional protrayal of that treacherous post-war epoch when the anti-Communist fever not only infected national politics but traumatized the intimate, innermost lives of friends and families, husbands and wives, parents and children.
About the Author
In the 1990s Philip Roth won Americas four major literary awards in succession: the National Book Critics Circle Award for Patrimony
(1991), the PEN/Faulkner Award for Operation Shylock
(1993), the National Book Award for Sabbaths Theater
(1995), and the Pulitzer
Prize in fiction for American Pastoral (1997). He won the Ambassador Book Award of the English-Speaking Union for I Married a Communist (1998); in the same year he received the National Medal of Arts at the White House. Previously he won the National Book Critics Circle Award for The Counterlife (1986) and the National Book Award for his first book, Goodbye, Columbus (1959). In 2000 he published The Human Stain, concluding a trilogy that depicts the ideological ethos of postwar America. For The Human Stain Roth received his second PEN/Faulkner Award as well as Britains W. H. Smith Award for the Best Book of the Year. In 2001 he received the highest award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Gold Medal in Fiction, given every six years “for the entire work of the recipient.” In 2005 The Plot Against America received the Society of American Historians Award for “the outstanding historical novel on an American theme for 20032004.” In 2007 Roth received the PEN/Faulkner Award for Everyman.
Reading Group Guide
The questions, discussion topics and suggested reading list that follow are intended to enhance your group's reading of Philip Roth's I Married a Communist. We hope they will provide you with many new ways of approaching this powerful novel of private rage, public betrayal, and historical reflection by one of America's greatest writers.