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Mercy of a Rude Stream
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Mercy of a Rude Stream

by Henry Roth

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Mercy of a Rude Stream marks the astonishing return of Henry Roth, sixty years after the publication of his classic novel Call it Sleep. A book of time, memory, and desire, this new novel is set in the New York of World War I: a colorful vibrant, carelessly brutal city where an immigrant boy, Ira Stigmanm is coming of age. Like Joyce's Stephen


Mercy of a Rude Stream marks the astonishing return of Henry Roth, sixty years after the publication of his classic novel Call it Sleep. A book of time, memory, and desire, this new novel is set in the New York of World War I: a colorful vibrant, carelessly brutal city where an immigrant boy, Ira Stigmanm is coming of age. Like Joyce's Stephen Dedalus, Ira begins to discover the genius and the burden of his imagination, as he takes his first tentative steps toward adulthood.

A contempoary of the great modernist writers, Roth is being rediscovered by a new generation of readers.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Roth creates his own Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man—a marvelously poetic chronicle."—Chicago Sun-Times

"An extraordinary and provocative work. . . . One of the great literary comebacks of the century."—San Francisco Chronicle

"Mr. Roth's innovative use of language. . .is both beautiful and highly realistic. . . .Although there is no style called Rothian, there should be."—New York Times Book Review

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Henry Roth's literary reputation would be secure on the strength of his remarkable first novel, Call It Sleep , published in 1934 and but largely unknown until it appeared in paperback in 1964 and became an instant classic. Roth's silence in the intervening years has been broken only by a collection of his shorter pieces, Shifting Landscape . This novel, then, is a signal event, especially since its protagonist, Ira Stigman, is clearly the same young boy who served as Roth's fictional alter ego in the first book, and since it begins roughly where the earlier novel ended--in the teeming immigrant slums of New York City during the first decades of the 20th century, a time and place that Roth captures with pungent language and palpable immediacy. Roth's long struggle with this material is reflected in first-person passages interpolated into the narrative in which the now elderly Ira addresses his word processor (called Ecclesias), ruminates about the difficulties that stilled his pen, and makes references to an earlier version of this work, which he is rewriting as he goes along. He laments the crisis of identity, the ``loss of affirmation'' and the self-loathing that crippled his imaginative powers, events that he touches on in the third-person narrative. Again we encounter the violent, penny-pinching father, the supportive mother, the loutish relatives. Ira's memories range over family strife, his school days, the dangers of the street, the disruption of WW I, and they end--somewhat abruptly--after the book's best extended scenes, set in a fancy grocery store where the adolescent Ira works after high school. This is the most forceful part of the book, a sustained, controlled piece of writing that masterfully evokes the temper of the times--the advent of Prohibition, the casual bigotry and racism of blue-collar workers and veterans--in the process of limning a group of memorable character portraits. Since this is to be the first volume of six, the story ends ambiguously, after repeatedly hinting at but never getting to ``the disastrous impairment of the psyche'' and ``the accident . . . the terrible deformation that was its consequence.'' Thus it is reasonable to think that this novel may be more satisfying when read as part of the six-volume whole. BOMC and QPB selections. (Jan.)
Library Journal
After nearly six decades of silence, Roth, whose only previous novel, Call It Sleep (1934), has been hailed as one of the classics of 20th-century American literature, returns with proof that his earlier effort was no fluke. In this first of a projected six volumes to fall under the general rubric ``Mercy of a Rude Stream,'' 87-year-old Roth juxtaposes two stories: A young Ira Stigman grows up in Jewish Harlem during World War I (and on to 1920, when Ira turns 14); and Roth struggles to find his voice again. The theme that ultimately unites these potentially discordant elements is deracination--Ira's internal struggle to free himself from his ``Jewishness'' and Roth's realization that his own attempt to do just that resulted in his ``creative inanition.'' Because it reflects so well the struggles we all face in attempting to define who we are and where and how we fit into the bigger picture, the novel transcends both its vividly drawn, localized setting and the ethnicity of its characters. And it leaves one eagerly anticipating the next installment. Essential for academic collections and all but the smallest of public collections. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/93.-- David W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersburg, Fla.
Kirkus Reviews
The third volume in the late Roth's ongoing autobiographical cycle, Mercy of a Rude Stream, is very much of a piece with its predecessors—A Star Shines Over Mt. Morris Park (1994) and A Diving Rock on the Hudson (1995).

It continues the story of Roth's alter ego, Ira Stigman, now seen wrestling with his artistic and sexual demons as he struggles toward manhood in 1920s Manhattan and also, some 60 years later, as the elderly Ira labors to make sense of missed opportunities and flawed life choices, carrying on an extended, fragmented "conversation" with his computer ("Ecclesias"). This latest novel fictionalizes Roth's longtime affair with NYU teacher and poet Eda Lou Walton (here: Edith Welles), and it's drenched in the kind of self-conscious literary talk that most writers indulge in, then dispense with, in their early work (though, to be fair, Roth does communicate effectively the beady excitement felt by young intellectuals sharing a contraband copy of Joyce's Ulysses, as well as the hopeful Ira's discovery, through reading Joyce, "that it was possible to commute the dross of the mundane and the sordid into literary treasure"). There are too many lengthy disquisitions on favored writers and writing, and—conversely—a plodding recounting of Ira's peregrinations from one unfulfilling day job to another. Still, Roth writes ferocious, flinty dialogue (the scenes between Ira and his younger sister, and former lover, Minnie are charged with an unforgettable admixture of erotic heat and guilty hatred) and pulls off some remarkable technical effects in balancing the young Ira's dreams of literary accomplishment against his aged self's resigned understanding that "performance with words was the only option open to him, the only tramway out of himself."

It's odd, and sad, to realize that Roth, who died last October, may eventually be better remembered for this deeply flawed final work than for his one incontestable masterpiece: Call It Sleep (1934), the book of his youth.

Product Details

Publication date:
Mercy of a Rude Stream Series
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.69(d)

Meet the Author

Henry Roth died on October 13, 1995. His extraordinary literary legacy includes the classic Call It Sleep and six volumes of Mercy of a Rude Stream, all completed before his death. A Diving Rock on the Hudson is the second volume in this series and follows A Star Shines over Mr. Morris Park, also published by Picador.

While still alive, Roth recieved two honorary doctorates, one from the University of New Mexico and one from the Hebrew Theological Institute in Cincinnati. Posthumously, he was honored by Hadassah Magazine with a special Harold U. Ribalow Prize for Distinguished Literary Achievement. He was also given a special honor by the Museum of the City of New York.

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