Roth, whose career was truncated after the publication of his now-classic Call It Sleep in 1934, presents a pastiche of the published writings that precede and follow his only novelsome 30 pieces spanning six decades. Compiled and edited by Materassi, who translated Call It Sleep into Italian, and enriched by interviews with Roth and selections from his correspondence, this singular omnibus is an unflinching, courageous chronicle of a tragically stunted artistic potential, exhibiting ``the continuity within the desolating discontinuity of the frustrated writer's existence.'' This volume does not approach the literary caliber of Call It Sleep, but readers will, nonetheless, find much to ponder here. Included is a 1925 story, written as an assignment for a City College (New York) English course and published in the school's literary magazine, where Roth's keen sense of dialogue and detail and his penchant for drawing on personal recollections are evident. Of two New Yorker pieces from 1939 and 1940, written before the long period of creative stagnation, one is an enchanting autobiographical tale of a boy's visit to a public library and his thwarted creative impulse. In a chapter from his unfinished second novel published in a small literary magazine, the author abandons the Jewish, immigrant Lower East Side of Manhattan for the proletariat of the American Midwest. In 1954, Roth, employed as a waterfowl farmer in Maine, broke a 14-year silence with an article for a trade periodical on ducks and geese. An excerpt from a ``memoir-form novel,'' a work in progress, is an autobiographical portrait of an isolated and barren writer. Political statements chart the course of Roth's ideological evolution from ardent Communist (``I feel that to the great boons Jews have already conferred upon humanity, Jews in America might add this last and greatest one: of orienting themselves toward ceasing to be Jews'') to partisan of Israel (``It was Israel, a revitalized Judaism, that revitalized the writer''). Writer's block is made palpable here, and Roth eloquently places his malady in context of ``the blight of the one-book or one-trilogy syndrome, followed by creative decline, or even by creative desuetude'' that he says befell a whole generation of writers who came of age in the '30s. He attributes his self-consciousness as a writer to an artistic commitment to the Communist Party credo of social realism; he lost his identity, he claims, when he severed himself from his Jewish immigrant roots. The 80-year-old author lays bare the follies of a ``tortuous itinerary,'' and his self-absorption, doubts and loathing with alacrity and a lack of sentimentality. Materassi finds remarkable, as will readers, Roth's ``insatiable intellectual curiosity that never ceases to question the self and the world around him and a willingness to pay the price exacted by total commitment to the answers he has found.'' (November)
Though he has not written a novel since his Call It Sleep (1934) , a well-received autobiographical American Jewish work, Roth has not been silent. Here is collected every story, essay, and memoir that Roth has published, interspersed with snippets of letters and candid interviews. Roth writes of literary creativity, family, politics, Judaism, Israel, and Jewish life on the East Side of New York in the Thirties, terming most of the material ``a continuum journal . . . reminiscences and observations about my surroundings.'' The more recent selections, still set in the past, have a greater cohesiveness. The reader is indeed privileged to accompany the author on this rich panoramic literary journey. Molly Abramowitz, Silver Spring, Md .