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Dull Book, But Vivid Portrayal of Bad Time Long Gone,
This review is from: I Married A Communist (Paperback)
Philip Roth's I MARRIED A COMMUNIST, 1998, is one of his Zuckerman books, but one in which the author's alter ego Nathan Zuckerman simply narrates: the story of Ira Ringgold, whom he had known since his Newark Jewish childhood, as Ira was the brother of one of his favorite teachers, Murray Ringgold. Ira, perhaps defined by the fact that he was big, and rough, coming from a rough neighborhood as the Ringgold brothers did, began life as a teenage ditch digger in 1930s Depression Newark. Rode the rails, worked all over the country, as a miner, a steel worker. Joined the Army and fought during World War II. Improbably became a big radio star, and married an even bigger radio star, Eve Frame, who had been a very very big silent film star. (People who are familiar with the lives of some celebrities may well feel that Eve, a self-hating Jew born Brooklyn's Chave Fromkin, who climbs the social ladder by imitating her betters, including their anti-semitism, strongly resembles the beautiful British actress Claire Bloom, one of Roth's ex-wives. And that Roth is here further pursuing his quarrels with her.) At any rate, the fictional Eve delivers Ira into quite a desirable lifestyle, based in a Greenwich Village, Manhattan, New York townhouse, beautifully furnished, where she frequently entertains glittering figures in the arts and literature. But he can't get on with her daughter from a previous marriage, Sylphid.
And Ira is a confirmed, dedicated Communist, bullying everyone around him with his political views, furthermore using his radio show to put forth the party's views. Then, in the early postwar years, comes the House Un-American Activities Committee, with its Inquisitional hearings intent on driving so-called Communists and fellow travelers from entertainment, and any other influential positions in American life. Demanding that its victims `name names' of other political undesirables. Creating various abominable blacklists that prevented its victims' employment, and hounded them into suicide and exile. The House hearings to be followed, in the 1950s, by the even more damaging Senate hearings of "Tailgunner" Joe McCarthy. Initially, Ira is protected by his relationship to Eve, but soon enough, his unstable marriage starts to crack up. And she publishes a bestselling exposé that identifies him as "an American taking his orders from Moscow." He is destroyed, personally and professionally. Because of him, even his brother, the teacher, loses his job; the McCarthyite witch hunters don't hold with Red schoolteachers, either. Ultimately, Zuckerman will be told that the witchhunt even reached out to him: he failed to receive the Fulbright Scholarship he was expecting, as he was thought to be a nephew of the Ringgolds.
In the 1990s, Roth won America's four major literary awards in succession: the National Book Critics Circle Award for Patrimony: A True Story,(1991); the PEN/Faulkner Award for Operation Shylock: A Confession, (1993); the National Book Award for SABBATH'S THEATER, (1995), and the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for American Pastoral, (1997). He won the Ambassador Book Award of the English-Speaking Union for I MARRIED A COMMUNIST. This greatly-talented, multi-award winning, world famous American author is, however, probably best known for his massively popular earlier books, Goodbye, Columbus; Portnoy's Complaint and When She Was Good. This book, told in long, dull, improbable flashback by Zuckerman and Murray, is probably best only for his more devoted fans, and/or those particularly interested in this dark period. But make no mistake about it; despite its flaws, here, in the guise of social history, Roth has created a vivid portrait of a bad time long gone.