Read An American Type by Henry Roth Willing Davidson Online


Henry Roth’s final novel, An American Type, is nothing short of a miracle, a lyrical work of immense poignancy from a writer whose biographical story has no parallel in American literature. Roth, best known for his towering immigrant novel Call It Sleep, emerged from a literary hibernation of 60 years in 1994 with Mercy of a Rude Stream, a fictional quartet that would be hHenry Roth’s final novel, An American Type, is nothing short of a miracle, a lyrical work of immense poignancy from a writer whose biographical story has no parallel in American literature. Roth, best known for his towering immigrant novel Call It Sleep, emerged from a literary hibernation of 60 years in 1994 with Mercy of a Rude Stream, a fictional quartet that would be hailed by as “a landmark of the American literary century.” In contrast to Roth’s previous novels, An American Type is a both a love story and a lamentation, the final fruit of nearly 2,000 unpublished pages that Roth composed in the last years of his life. The manuscript rested undisturbed in an office file for over a decade before it was sent to Willing Davidson, then a young assistant in the Fiction Department of The New Yorker, who with a “growing sense of discovery and elation,” recognized that this unpublished manuscript possessed “astonishing vigor.”Set in the dire year of 1938, the novel reintroduces us to Roth’s alter-ego, Ira Stigman, a 32-year-old novelist, eager to assimilate but psychologically traumatized by the scars of his impoverished immigrant past. Restless with his older lover and literary mentor, the renowned English professor, Edith Welles, whose obsessive love has crippled him, Ira, a “slum-born Yiddle,” journeys to Yaddo, the famed writer’s colony, where he meets a blond, aristocratic pianist, whose inherent nobility and “calm, Anglo-Saxon radiance” engages him.The ensuing romantic crisis, as well as the conflict between his ghetto Jewish roots and the bourgeois comforts of Manhattan, forces Ira to abandon the comforts of his paramour’s Greenwich Village apartment. In his relentless search to become a writer, a husband and an American, Ira heads West with an illiterate, boorish Communist, on an illusory quest for the promise of the American West. Thumbing rides from gruff truckers, riding the rails with hobos through the Dust Bowl, Ira explores America’s inherent splendors and its Depression tragedies as he returns home, uncertain if he will marry M., questioning if he’ll ever be able to make anything of his lapidary prose.Set against crumbling piers and glimmering skyscrapers in Manhattan, against seedy motor courts and tufted palm trees in sun-soaked Los Angeles, An American Type is not only, perhaps, the last first-hand testament of the Depression, but also a universal statement about the constant reinvention of American identity, and, with its lyrical ending, the transcendence of love....

Title : An American Type
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ISBN : 9780393077759
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 304 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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An American Type Reviews

  • Richard Derus
    2018-12-09 11:49

    Rating: 3.5* of fivePosthumous books don't often turn out well (eg, Dream of Fair to Middling Women oh dear oh dear). Books excavated from immense piles of prose don't often turn out well (eg, Of Time and the River, echhh) either. And this book is both. Did it turn out well? Compared to Call It Sleep, no. Compared to much of the publishing world's present output, yeah.I found Ira, the author's alter ego, to be a bit tedious in all Roth's books. I don't love Rabbit Angstrom (John Updike's most famous character) either. But editor Willing Davidson (what a great name!) found some less irritatingly self-absorbed things to focus this novel on than, say, the entire book A Star Shines Over Mt. Morris Park, which I found nigh on unreadably whiny. Ira's love for his wife M is a huge point in his favor, and though she is never brought to life in the text but is instead shorthanded in as "aureate" or "golden" or smilingly bathed in the sort of light that the Virgin Mary is usually portrayed lit by, she remains the believeable focus of Ira's striving and working and expending effort on. It's curious how that happened; I usually have a hard time with characters that are sketched in when they occupy a central place in a narrative. I felt M, represented by a simple single letter, was appropriately left as an Object of Veneration; it was *right* somehow that she was a collection of qualities with no recognizable voice of her own.Edith, God love her, is as much a cipher as ever, and luckily little missed in this book.I compare this mining job to the pseudo-weighty Jonathan Littell and Andrea Levy stuff lighting things up in Literatureland; An American Type is refreshingly honest and clear and taut compared to those book, among others I've read that have received unstinting praise. It deserves a place on every Roth lover's shelves. I won't recommend it wholeheartedly because it's a bit dull compared to his brilliant first book, and fourth book (A Diving Rock on the Hudson). But give it a chance...there is magic at the very end, worth working for, worth making the effort to see...much like Roth felt life was, I think.

  • Joy
    2018-11-19 07:59

    I suppose when a major author dies, there’s always the hope that we’ll find among his or her papers that undiscovered masterpiece to be posthumously published and enjoyed by all. So I can understand Willing Davidson’s enthusiasm and excitement when he was handed the task of reading through Henry Roth’s papers, to see if there was anything salvageable. And with the publication of An American Type, Davidson has done a fine job of demonstrating that there definitely was some wonderful writing there.The problem with the book, it seems to me, is that it really never comes together as a novel – its many short (sometimes no more than a page or two) vignettes or incidents never provide the necessary weight and coherence a novel should deliver. It’s a shame the work couldn’t have been published as a collection of short pieces (or simply notes for a novel, as in the case of the recent volume of Nabokov’s notes for the unpublished Laura), rather than being forced into a form that doesn’t really suit it.The book's main character, Ira, never really gained my full sympathy or interest. It’s true that he has a distinct voice and outlook, and his adventures, sketchy and scattered though they may be, were at times compelling and maddening, and sometimes all too believable. But the constant focus on one character’s thoughts and feelings and behavior became irritating after a while. Davidson says in his editor’s afterword that Roth “couldn’t leave anything out – he found all personal detail equally engrossing.” And it shows. But the parts of the book I found most appealing were those brief moments when Roth turns his concentration away from Ira and gives other characters some space on stage – I would have welcomed a little more of that.However, I ended up enjoying most of the book a great deal, and I’d certainly recommend it to other readers. Even with its failings, the novel is filled with some beautiful writing, and provides a fascinating glimpse of a very rough period in our history.Note: This review refers to an advance reading copy of the novel, provided by the publisher, through the Early Reviewer Program at Library Thing.

  • Tony
    2018-12-07 11:52

    AN AMERICAN TYPE. (2010). Henry Roth. ****.Many years ago, in the late 1960s, I had just purchased a copy of Roth’s “Call It Sleep,” and was reading it on a bus on my way somewhere. When I realized that I had just missed my stop, I rushed towards the exit, leaving my book behind. Needless to say, it wasn’t turned in to lost-and-found, and I never bought another copy. When I found this book, I was excited. Here was a copy I could take home and read and not be afraid of leaving it somewhere. This novel was published after Roth’s death in 1995; the editing was done by William Davidson. It is essentially a combination of a road book and a love story. In it, his protagonist, Ira, starts out on the East Coast in New York and then moves on to Albuquerque, back to New York, and then, finally to L.A. His time on the East Coast is spent mostly at Yaddo, the artist’s colony near Saratoga Springs. There he meets M., a tall, beautiful pianist. Even though Ira has been living with a woman named Edith for over ten years, Ira falls for M, but doesn’t want to let go of Edith. His problem is that he kind of loves them both, but has no money. Each of the girls contributes to his support. He is working on his current book – presumably it is this one – while trying to get his life in order. Most of his friends are Communists (the novel is set in the 1930s), but Ira doesn’t follow any set political philosophy. He is a fiercely independent man, but is strongly swayed by his girlfriends and his Jewish parents. The love interest eventually resolves itself, but Ira still remains confused about how life works. Through him we meet a variety of people of the period and get an interpretation of what life is all about back then. It is a time of hopelessness and confusion. Through Ira’s eyes, we get a very different picture of the times than we are used to receiving. I’ve resolved to go back and read “Call It Sleep,” since the two books are interrelated. Recommended.

  • Jane
    2018-12-16 12:49

    Wasted my time reading this book. I should have taken heed of other reviews on this site.

  • Mark Feltskog
    2018-12-16 14:36

    Try though I have--and I would love to have something original and possibly insightful to say about this last of Henry Roth's novels, all of which I have read--I can find nothing to add to the litany of disappointment so well expressed in this forum on An American Type. If this weren't Henry Roth, and didn't contain sections of his superlative prose, this would probably be more along the lines of a one-star book. If you couldn't wait to get your hands on Juneteenth by Ralph Ellison, (another twentieth-century American novelist who produced one masterpiece, then spent the rest of his career afflicted by a monumental writer's block), then found it, though containing some of his masterful writing, a disappointment, then you can probably expect the same experience with this book. I can't help but wonder if this material would be better released en masse. as print-on-demand or electronic books, and left for avid readers to sort out. Anything either of these writers produced is of historical interest, if nothing else. But as novels? I don't know if the best-intentioned or most talented literary executor or editor can wring narratives from an author's remains, but both of these books suggest not. This is better than nothing, but only just.

  • Billy
    2018-11-20 10:03

    No body of literature appeals to me more than the five volumes of Mercy of a Rude Stream (I'm counting An American Type as vol. 5). While this last book lacks some of the drive and intensity of the original four (perhaps because it was compiled after Roth died) I consider the five books to be without compare.Nothing is darker or grimmer than Mercy of a Rude Stream and nothing more hopeful, nothing more real. It is the total unburdening, the complete confrontation of self. It is failure and stagnation followed by, in old age, an obsessive act of creation. I leave you with this painful description of the author's pettiness in breaking with his wife's parents over a trivial request made by the mother of M, his beloved wife:"The act was one of the most boorish Ira was ever guilty of. He thought of Joyce and his stormy, unbending refusal to accede to his dying mother's plea that he kneel in bedside prayer for her sake. Tandem idiots--to refuse to comply by a meaningless gesture to a meaningless request, especially when some little kindness could be accorded by doing so, something worthwhile: like comforting a dying mother, like enabling M to preserve her ties with her family."

  • T.P. Williams
    2018-11-25 09:50

    Having read "Call It Sleep," and the four volumes of "Mercy of a Rude Stream," I was looking forward to this book, assembled or edited by a New Yorker editor. Break up scene with Edith was riveting and scenes and people described in the Los Angeles section of book were memorable. However, writing of "M," the author's wife was not credible, nor has it been in any of the books. Nary a negative word, a bruised feeling, a character flaw or imperfection is written of her. It rings false in light of the manner the author engages in self-flagellation and in well-rounded descriptions of other characters. "M" is one dimensional throughout. As if the author, so brutally frank in other respects cannot bear to do the same to her. Maybe he could only write effectively about toxic relationships (Edith, his father, etc.). A disappointment.

  • Elalma
    2018-12-12 09:56

    Non ho ritrovato qui la forza narrativa, la lingua vivace e quella freschezza che hanno fatto di "Chiamalo Sonno" un grande romanzo; ho apprezzato solo quegli sprazzi in cui si faceva riferimento alle origini, alla sua infanzia e alla sua famiglia. Forse man mano che procedeva l'integrazione americana, veniva meno davvero l'ispirazione. Commoventi e vive, però, le pagine dedicate alla moglie scomparsa e tanto amata.

  • Steve Reid
    2018-12-11 13:53

    Since this book was assembled from notes and other pieces after the author's death I can't entirely fault the author for what has turned out to be quite a rambler with an unsympathetic main character. I read "Call it Sleep" a hundred years ago and as I recall it was pretty decent, maybe even award-winning. This one not so much.

  • Eoin
    2018-11-27 09:40

    Though not of the caliber of his masterpieces, Roth still manages to sting and resonate post mortem. The painful part is that even his unfinished, unintended work is worth reading.

  • Ryan Chapman
    2018-11-24 10:48

    This book felt too cobbled together, showing too many seams for me to really enjoy it. Probably interesting for fans of the author, but otherwise I say pass.

  • Leslie
    2018-11-23 13:55

    Tough to give a review about a book that was edited and published posthumously. Who knows what Roth would have done with it. In any case, not even in the same league as Call it Sleep.