There was a time in America's not-so-distant past when a person could get genuinely punished for having unpopular beliefs, when pushing for workers' rights could get someone in serious trouble. Ron Silver gives voice to one of those people, retired schoolteacher Murray Ringold, one of the most colorful and passionate characters to emerge from Philip Roth's immense canon. Silver doesn't try to capture the cracks and wheezes of a 90-year-old man's voice (a good thing, considering this unabridged audiocassette's length); instead, he goes for the cadences, the pain from wounds incurred decades ago but recounted so vividly you'd think they happened yesterday. (Running time: 11 hours, eight cassettes) --Lou Schuler
From Publishers Weekly
Disconcerting echoes of Roth's relationship with Claire Bloom, as revealed in her memoir, Leaving the Doll's House, haunt Roth's angry but oddly inert 23rd novel. As in American Pastoral, Roth again deals with the Newark of his youth, and with the sons of Jewish immigrants to whom America has given opportunity and even riches?and how they are swept off course by the forces of history. Roth's old alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman, narrates the story of Ira Ringold, aka Iron Rinn, a supremely idealistic political radical and celebrated radio star of the 1950s who is blacklisted and brought to ruin when his wife, Eva Frame (a self-hating Jewish actress born Chava Fromkin), writes an expose called I Married A Communist. The impetus for Eva's treacherous act is Ira's insistence that she evict her 24-year-old daughter from their house; the resemblance to Bloom's revelations of Roth's similar demand is too close to miss, and Roth's shrill belaboring of the issue seems a thinly disguised vendetta. Even high-pitched scenes of family conflict don't bring the novel to life. One problem is that the flat flashback narration shared between the 64-year-old Nathan and Ira's 90-year-old brother, Murray, is stultifyingly dull. Some fine Roth touches do appear: his evocation of the Depression years through the McCarthy era has clarity and vigor. But Ira's aggressively boorish behavior as he struggles with his conscience over having abandoned his Marxist ideals to assume a bourgeois lifestyle is never credible, and his turgid ideological rants against the American government are jackhammers of repetitious invective. In addition, the depiction of an adolescent Nathan as a precocious writer and social philosopher and the saintly Murray's infallible memory of long conversations with Ira?even between Ira and Eva in bed?challenge the reader's credulity. For those who lived through the years Roth evokes, this novel will have some resonance. For others, its belligerent tone and lack of dramatic urgency will be a turn-off. 150,000 first printing; $150,000 ad/promo.
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