Fiction. Literature. HTML: Radio actor Iron Rinn (born Ira Ringold) is a big Newark roughneck blighted by a brutal personal secret from which he is perpetually in flight. An idealistic Communist, a self-educated ditchdigger turned popular performer, a six-foot six-inch Abe Lincoln look-alike, he marries the nation's reigning radio actress and beloved silent-film star, the exquisite Eve Frame (born Chava Fromkin). Their marriage evolves from a glamorous, romantic idyll into a dispiriting soap opera of tears and treachery. And with Eve's dramatic revelation to the gossip columnist Bryden Grant of her husband's life of "espionage" for the Soviet Union, the relationship enlarges from private drama into national scandal. Set in the heart of the McCarthy era, the story of Iron Rinn's denunciation and disgrace brings to harrowing life the human drama that was central to the nation's political tribulations in the dark years of betrayal, the blacklist, and naming names. I Married a Communist is an American tragedy as only Philip Roth could write it..
The good news about all of this is that, although several of the 1998 book’s key characters are certainly based on Bloom, her daughter by a previous marriage, and some of her friends, I Married a Communist is more than just a means of retaliation on Roth’s part. It is also a powerful indictment of the McCarthy-era witch-hunt that needlessly ruined so many lives in its determination to snuff out American Communism.
Key characters include: Nathan Zuckerman, a high school student being drawn toward Communism by his best friend and mentor; Murray Ringold, Nathan’s much admired English teacher; Ira Ringold, war veteran, radio actor, and active Communist to whom Nathan is particularly drawn; Eve Frame, silent movie star and radio actress who marries Ira; and, Sylphid, Eve Frame’s adult daughter.
Ira’s story is recounted over several evenings of conversation between the now 90-year-old Murray Ringold and Nathan after a chance meeting between the two men provides them with the opportunity to do some long overdue catching up. All of the key players in the story, other than Murray and Nathan, are long dead, and Murray holds nothing back as he shares his memories of his brother. Murray is the last person alive who knows the whole story, and he believes that Nathan is the only one left who cares enough to listen to it. As the two share memories of the past, Nathan reflects upon his own involvement in the events of those years and how his choices affected his relationship with his parents.
I Married a Communist is the second book in Roth’s “American Trilogy,” a series that also includes American Pastoral (an alternate history of America) and The Human Stain (about the goings on at a small New England college). The trilogy is largely an indictment of the American Dream and a study of the social changes that shaped American thought during the second half of the twentieth century. This second book, as are the other two in the series, is a reminder of just how easily those with the best of intentions can ruin innocent lives.
Rated at: 4.0
The story spans nearly a century and is narrated by Nathan Zuckerman. It tells quite a bit of Nathan's history but the central, if not "main", character is Ira Ringold, a troubled youth turned Communist spokesman and radio star who marries into money, fame, and the NY elite-- until his downfall.
The novel if full of intellectual references to literature, philosophy, economics, etc. At times is seems that Roth had a bunch of random semi-essays laying around and figured out how to weave them into the novel. While I generally enjoyed these off-topic rants they could be distracting from the plot. The book was longer, denser, and more pedantic than it needed to be. But for the patient reader the finale was worthwhile. Overall a profound story, timely history lesson, full of memorable characters.
What brings the whole house of cards down is Irving's misalliance of a celebrity marraige to the film star Eva Frame (a woman determined to deny her jewishness) and the complete and utter rejection of Irving as stepfather by Eva's daughter Sylphid. Coinciding with the political buildup behind the scare with the breakdown of the marraige manipulated by Sylphid--the angry breakup is then supplemented by a tell all book published by Eva but actually ghostwritten by a husband-wife team (friends of Eva) with political ambitions. This book destroys Irving's career and in the long run destroys Eva's as well in the backlash she is shunned by all her friends.
Roth IMO is a great writer--mixing brilliant dialogue, in depth psychologoical analysis and intriguing plotlines. His prose has the uncanny ability to seem to whisper in his reader's ears. Like the best and greatest writers he seems in search of a logic in a chaotic universe--something that doubtfully can ever be reached but all the same is well worth the trying not only for a writer but for all of us as well.
"I Married a Communist," like so many other good novels, could be read as a tool of resistance to all-encompassing ideologies like communism and an impassioned argument in favor of critical thinking. To reduce it to a mere civics lesson would ignore its human element, which Roth, as per usual, handles masterfully. The character at the center of this novel, Ira Ringold, is both a classically Rothian protagonist who struggles, largely unsuccessfully, in this case, to synthesize his American and Jewish identities and an unrepentant communist. As a victim, he's not particularly sympathetic, either; he uses his political ideology to stifle his most violent impulses and seems to lack the intellectual capacity to fully understand the philosophy he espouses. These shortcomings make "I Married a Communist" an occasionally harrowing read; Roth seems to want to impress upon his readers the inner and turmoil and emotional violence that it takes to create a genuine fanatic. As Roth's longtime narrator and authorial stand-in Nathan Zuckerman and Murray Ringold, Ira's brother, try to patch together a serviceable narrative that can make sense Ira's chaotic life, they are also seeking to examine the emotional scars that this sort of absolutist thinking leaves upon the psyches of its practitioners. Ira, for example, seeks to achieve a sort of impersonal dedication to communism but seems unable to gain the necessary emotional distance to do so. And this novel is brimming with misdirected emotional energy. Characters in this novel fall in and out of love with each other, with their illusions, and with various political philosophies with typically messy, painful results. The tense triangle that Roth describes between Ira, Eve Frame, his co-star and sometime wife, and her emotionally damaged daughter is a fascinating picture of familial dysfunction. His portrait of Johnny O'Day, Ira's mentor, is a similarly spellbinding account of a character alienated from everything but his own ideas. One suspects that the only genuine personal growth in this novel occurs when Nathan Zuckerman rejects the lure of communism, chooses to dedicate his life to literature, and escapes Ira's circle.
As for Roth's prose: what's left to say? To say that he flawlessly mimics the speech pattens of his characters wouldn't be quite correct: Few people are able to speak as elegantly as Roth writes. When he gets going, Roth's writing reminds me of nothing so much as the calming sound of the waves gently and ceaselessly crashing upon a beach. Whatever his subject, Roth's prose finds and mines a poetic vein that most writers strain to imagine, let alone commit to paper. To watch as he patiently unspools his characters' stories is to watch a master fully in control of his medium. "I Married a Communist," like "American Pastoral" and "The Plot Against America," the other entries in Roth's American trilogy, is highly recommended.
Many of the
There were many reasons I loved this book, not the least of which was the total saturation with McCarthy-era politics. The characters were rich, the book was complete. With other authors I'll often read a book and be left wondering what happened after it was over, or I'll be curious about details regarding what happened before the story began. Roth manages to start right in the midst of the story and yet the novel is 100% complete. Though I loved the book I did not feel like it needed a single additional word, nor were any of the words superfluous.
As always, there were many little sentences that proved Roth's understanding of the human condition.
“I'd say to Doris, 'Why doesn't he leave? Why can't he leave?' And do you know what Doris would answer? 'Because he's like everybody – you only realize things when they're over.”
“I headed down the stairs with the seething self-disgust of someone young enough to think that you had to mean everything you said.”
My politics are about as left as you can get and this book certainly focuses on left-wing politics, which is certainly a bonus for me. However, there were several sections regarding the inability of a writer/artist/etc. to be political, and while I generally disagree with that point of view...well, I was a bit swayed.
“Politics is the great generalizer,” Leo told me, “and literature the great particularizer, and not only are they in an inverse relationship to each other – they are also in an antagonistic relationship. To politics, literature is decadent, soft, irrelevant, boring, wrongheaded, dull, something that makes no sense and that really oughtn't to be. Why? Because the particularizing impulse is literature. How can you be a politician and allow the nuance? As an artist the nuance is your task. Your task is not to simplify. Even should you choose to write in the simplest way, a la Hemingway, the task remains to impart the nuance, to elucidate the complication, not to deny the contradiction, but to see where, within the contradiction, lies the tormented human being. To allow the chaos. To let it in. You must let it in.”
Overall, this book reminded me that Roth is the most awarded living author for a reason. Every word he writes is there for a purpose and he rarely oversteps his reach. I would recommend this book to anyone who's interested in literary fiction.
And, if it was just this story, told in this interesting way, there might have been a good book here. However, page after page is made up of the various individuals going on about their beliefs about politics and deeper considerations. Yes, this fleshes the people out – makes them real. But it also bogs down the entire book and makes reading it a chore.
Every once in a while it tries to soar. But about that time another discussion or speech begins, and it all comes crashing to the ground.