Set in 1938, legendary novelist Henry Roth’s posthumously released final work is a powerful reflection on the social climate of pre-war America. A continuation of Mercy of a Rude Stream, the novel follows the coming- of-age experiences of Ira Stigman, Roth’s alter-ego protagonist. Ira is dissatisfied in both his romantic life and in his literary career — feeling emotionally distant from his older lover, Edith, and suffering from severe writer’s block. While visiting Yaddo, the artists’ colony, Ira falls for M, an elegant, mysterious pianist. Unsettled by the state of his personal affairs, he sets out on a journey from New York City to Los Angeles. Throughout, Roth’s numerous talents are on display, treating the reader to vivid characterizations and lively dialogue. We sense Ira’s vitality — his Jewish identity, his wavering confidence in his art, his immigrant roots— and we grow extraordinarily close to him. The novel’s final moments darkly convey Ira’s pain in dramatically-wrought prose. Written in the final years of Roth’s life, as he was mourning the death of his wife and in failing health, the novel originally stood at nearly two thousand manuscript pages. Charged with a profoundly intricate assignment, New Yorker editor Willing Davidson succeeds in his reconfiguration of the project, which retains Roth’s unique voice and effortless style. Davidson’s respect for Henry Roth’s artistic vision helps to cement this work as the dynamic final opus in what was a virtuosic writing career.
Peninnah Schram, well-known storyteller & author, is Professor of Speech and Drama at Yeshiva University’s Stern College. Her latest book is an illustrated anthology, The Hungry Clothes and Other Jewish Folktales (Sterling Publishing) and a CD, The Minstrel & the Storyteller, with singer/guitarist Gerard Edery (Sefarad Records). She is a recipient of a Covenant Award for Outstanding Jewish Educator and the 2003 National Storytelling Network’s Lifetime Achievement Award.