An American Type
The Great Depression was no help to poor, New York Jewish ghetto novelist Ira Stigman, who loathed his current dependence on his bossy, wealthy mentor and lover, Edith. Then, at Yaddo artists’ colony, he meets M., a musician, and feels a connection of love he never found with Edith or anyone else, but both relationships raise enough fear and determination in him to run away to “prove himself.” Accompanied by an injured, out-of-work Communist called Bill, he heads to Los Angeles in his Model A car to try screenwriting for the money and independence. Upon arrival, his contact in LA has vanished, so he and Bill are on their own, on the road, penniless.
The raw adventures, some not without humor, of this life with society’s indigents, hopping boxcars with hobos, and sleeping in flea bag hotels, went into Ira’s writing and reemphasized his love for M., who, despite her social status and “calm, Anglo-Saxon radiance,” marries him and they live for fifty years in a house trailer in Albuquerque. The environment hardly matters as their artistic lives and the understanding between them satisfy the creative spirit in these united souls.
As bleak as the story may sound, there is depth and much richness in the story of the author and his real-life wife Muriel, as told through the eyes of Ira, Roth’s alter-ego. Despite the sixty-year gap between Roth’s first novel and his last in a series, this novel has a fitting finality, gleaned from the writer’s manuscript by fortuitously named editor Willing Davidson. There’s not a dull moment in this story.