New Henry Roth novel


Thanks to the efforts of a 32-year-old fiction editor at The New Yorker magazine, Henry Roth — dead for 15 years now — will have a fifth novel published next month: "An American Type."

The New York Times reports:

“An American Type,” like everything Roth wrote, is autobiographical, and describes a trip he made to the West Coast and back in 1938, hitchhiking and riding on freight trains for part of the way. It’s by far the sunniest thing Roth ever wrote and ends with the marriage of Ira Stigman, his fictional alter ego, to a character called M, a stand-in for Muriel Parker, a composer who was married to Roth for 51 years of Job-like hardship.

Roth’s first novel, “Call It Sleep,” is now considered a classic, a luminous evocation of a Jewish immigrant childhood on the Lower East Side; but when it came out in 1934, it sold poorly and was attacked by left-wing critics for being too artsy and politically unaware. A chastened Roth, then an ardent Communist, determined to write a proletarian novel and worked on it unsuccessfully for years before finally burning most of it. In 1964 “Call It Sleep” was reissued in paperback, and in a front-page essay in The New York Times Book Review the critic Irving Howe called it “one of the few genuinely distinguished novels written by a 20th-century American.” Roth, however, tried to dissociate himself from the novel. “The man who wrote that book at the age of 27 is dead,” he said. “I am a totally different man.” He was living in self-imposed exile in rural Maine, where after a series of odd jobs and a stint as an attendant at the state mental hospital he was working as what he called a “waterfowl dresser,” slaughtering and plucking ducks and geese. He hadn’t published a word in years.

Full story here.

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