When America Saw Red; Fiction Choice

Article excerpt

Byline: PHILIP HENSHER

I married a Communist

by Philip Roth

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Philip Roth was born in 1933 in New Jersey. For almost 40 years, he has been writing some of the greatest fiction of our times, often enraging the Jewish community, feminists and sensitive critics.His reputation as a good husband, after the publication last year of the memoirs of his ex-wife, Claire Bloom, is less secure.

Philip Roth has been on a bit of a roll recently. Entering a phase of immense productivity and inventiveness, he has produced a series of novels which will help erase the long-held idea that he is the author of Portnoy's Complaint and not much else.

His novels of the Nineties - Patrimony, Operation Shylock, Sabbath's Theater and American Pastoral - all cleaned up at the awards ceremonies, and you could see why. Even if, like me, you find them periodically repellent in their political posturing, they are always redeemed by an immense technical skill, and an imaginative energy which is effectively contained in some stupendous set pieces.

I Married a Communist is Roth's fourth book in five years, and it is the first to show signs of flagging. Yet in the dismally unambitious landscape of the contemporary American novel, Roth still stands out.

Like his previous novel, American Pastoral, it explores the impact of radical politics on the American mind. Where the earlier book was concerned with the half-baked radical terrorists of the Sixties, this goes back to the anti-communist McCarthy trials of the Fifties.

Radio actor Ira Ringold is 6ft 6in, heroic in appearance, and an autodidact; serving in the Second World War turns him from an illiterate man to someone burningly convinced of the rights of man, of the need for political justice at every level of society. In the army, he fights casual racism with excessive energy. Out of the army, he continues his fight with the same alarming fury.

His downfall comes through his wife, the beautiful actress Eve Frame, after their marriage has descended from an idyll in the colour magazines to a series of furious betrayals. …