I Married a Communist – 4/5 Stars
The second in the so-called American Trilogy which finds both Philip Roth and his sometimes alter ego Nathan Zuckerman reflecting on their own pasts and also the middle part of the 20th century. The Zuckerman novels tend to be fairly naval-gazing affairs and very episodic. The American Trilogy all put Nathan in the passenger seat as he talks with friends and acquaintances about their stories. The first, American Pastoral, deals with Nathan meeting back up with an old high school popular athlete, a star, whose daughter became embroiled in leftist terrorism in the early 70s. The third, The Human Stain, involves Nathan listening to the story of his neighbor, a white professor who is fired from his university for making a joke that is misperceived as racist, and then detailing his own complicated racial past.
This novel involves Nathan meeting up with his old high school English teacher and communist, who had a brief tangle with the HUAC which left him briefly out of work, only to successfully sue them later. His brother, a famous actor married to a famous actress, found himself much more embroiled and much more wounded by his conflict with anti-Communist hysteria. The title of this book refers to the actress wife, now-ex, writing a tell-all book that seeks to distance herself from her husband (and her own Jewishness) and destroy him in the process. This novel is rife with self-righteousness and anti-American goodness. Whether Nathan (who has mostly grown out of pure vitriol of this book) is still a complete stand-in or not, the book sings when it’s really going to town on America’s sins.
Deception – 3/5 Stars
The “Deception” of the title of the novel mostly clearly and directly refers to this book’s structure. The book is a novel, where an author named Philip is having at least one affair over of the course of the novel, and is presented entirely as two lovers, both married, having various conversations when they are meeting up. So the first element of deception is the two lovers having affairs on their respective partners. The second element is presenting either a memoir by Philip Roth as a novel by Philip Roth or a novel about a character named Philip Roth by Philip Roth where the actions are fictionalized, if not entirely invented. Among other things happening in 1980s was a reinvestigation in to memoir and fiction as memoir became an artform of its own and not just the book famous people wrote at a certain time in their lives. I argue that all memoir is fiction, but people don’t like that.
So, the novel itself is those conversation, mostly drawn in snippets of topics, and mostly about the intimacies and excitement of two people not simply breaking the rules, but specifically introducing the elements of randomness into their meetups. This is not an affair hurriedly had in a quick matter of weeks and months that has the passion and intensity of torridness, but also has the violent entropy built right in. Instead, this is a smoldering affair where long sections of time pass, and where the meetings are not frantic, but planned, and more so, pre-planned, almost like vacations from regular lives. Philip is in his mid-fifties, and the woman is in her late 30s or early 40s, and both are bringing very different considerations into things. This is not the most effective novel and probably won’t be memorable in the long run, but it is an interesting novel that plays out a conceit. And as you can imagine or guess, there is more deception happening by the end than just those I mentioned here.