A DIVING ROCK ON THE HUDSON by Henry Roth

A DIVING ROCK ON THE HUDSON

Vol. II of Mercy of a Rude Stream
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KIRKUS REVIEW

The second volume of Henry Roth's long-awaited autobiographical cycle continues the saga of Ira Stigman, immigrant Jew and compulsive schlemiel. With Mercy of a Rude Stream (1994), Roth emerged from a literary hibernation of 60 years following his first novel, the 1934 classic, Call it Sleep. In his new book, he continues the story of Ira, a somewhat mopey adolescent who, at the outset of the latest work, is entering high school at the urging of his doting mother. By the time the book is over, he will have tried and abandoned a number of possible career paths, discovering at the end that he was born to be a writer. Along the way, he will engage in a lengthy incestuous affair with his sister and be drawn into a literary crowd. Roth tells this story through a multilayered narrative set in three time frames: Ira's life in the 1920s; the aging Ira's manuscript written in 1979; and the revisions to that work Ira makes in the present, often in spirited dialogue with his computer. Ira is a consummate outsider, the alienated Jew with a double burden -- alienation from a Christian America and from his status as an immigrant Jew and apparent failure. Roth revisits this messy youth in densely layered and occasionally meandering prose, allowing himself indulgences like a ferocious diatribe denouncing Joyce's Leopold Bloom as a faux Jew. A Diving Rock is much more uneven than its immediate predecessor, starting slowly, almost fitfully, before bursting into full flower. It is a book of surprising moments glimpsed fleetingly -- a vicious anti-Semitic outburst from baseball legend John McGraw, a near-rape in a storeroom basement, a keenly observed scene at a Greenwich Village poetry reading. Such scenes make this a book of great moments, but not quite a great book. Still, Roth is the last surviving voice of High Modernism, and even in a flawed work like this, it is a voice that should be heard.
Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0312140851
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1994




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