I MARRIED A COMMUNIST by Philip Roth

I MARRIED A COMMUNIST

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Following the spectacular success of its immediate predecessor, American Pastoral (1997), Roth's ambitious new novel is another chronicle of innocence and idealism traduced--the demolition of what one of its characters calls "the myth of your own goodness." That character is Murray Ringold, a nonagenarian former schoolteacher whose meeting with his onetime student (and recurring Roth character), novelist Nathan Zuckermano, triggers a complex reconstruction of the infamous life of Murray's younger brother Ira. As "Iron Rinn," a "radio star. . . married to one of the country's most revered radio actresses," Ira had become a beloved public figure renowned for his impersonations of Abraham Lincoln (whom he physically resembled) and for patriotic broadcasts celebrating America's working poor. Nathan, who grew up in the 1940s as a fledgling liberal intellectual whose heroes were radio playwright Norman Corwin and left-wing novelist Howard Fast, adored the charismatic Ira, even after the latter's wife denounced him as a duplicitous "zealot" in her explosive memoir, I Married a Communist. The story of Ira's violent youth, spectacular career, and eventual disgrace is rather ham-fistedly assembled from Nathan's own memories (as Iron Rinn's devoted acolyte), the stories Ira told him, and--most movingly--the immensely detailed recollections poured forth by the ever-garrulous Murray Ringold (brilliantly portrayed as a bundle of fiery intellectual and moral energies undimmed by old age; a sturdy exemplar of "the disciplined sadness of stoicism"). The character of Murray is the triumph of this often inventive but gratingly discursive novel, whose dramatic content is frequently upstaged by such indulgences as Ira's lengthy political diatribes, Nathan's summaries of favorite literary works (such as Arthur Miller's Focus), and Murray's exhausting (if agreeably savage) remembrance of Richard Nixon's state funeral. Despite its superb re-creation of the conflicted 1940s and the ordeal of the American Left, along with a plethora of sharply realized ideologues at verbal war, this very talky book is an example of Roth at his most forceful and eloquent, though perhaps rather less than his best.

Pub Date: Oct. 22nd, 1998
ISBN: 0-395-93346-3
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1998




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