The debut memoir about the formative years of a New York intellectual who tells his story out of "a more-than-ordinary fear of reliving [his] past elsewhere.”
The only son of a medical scientist and a concert pianist, literary critic and n+1 founder Roth grew up in an Upper-West-Side atmosphere where reciting the classics and learning about biology with his father were the norm. Just as he was about to enter high school, he discovered that his father, who claimed to have contracted HIV through laboratory exposure many years before, was dying of AIDS. The family home soon became a suffocating space of denial where "the important thing was to behave as though nothing were wrong.” At the same time, Roth's father developed a morbid interest both in the scientific literature about HIV-AIDS and in sharing the information dispassionately with his son. The author made halfhearted attempts to escape by attending Oberlin College, but he returned to New York on pain of being cut from his father's will. After his father's death, Roth traveled to Paris, ostensibly to study with Jacques Derrida, but more to find release from the ghost of his father. Upon his return, his father's sister presented him with a manuscript in which she alluded to her brother's homosexuality. Her claims caused Roth to begin an investigation of his father's life through the novels that the elder Roth had given him. Eventually, he uncovered the truths his father could not articulate.
As a study of the relationship between literature and life, the book is intriguing, but the critical literary perspective Roth brings to the subject at times translates as a lack of emotional engagement.