Mercy of a Rude Stream: The Complete Novels
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
This "landmark of the American literary century" (Boston Globe) is finally published as one volume, appearing with a brilliant new introduction.
Sixty years after the publication of his great modernist masterpiece, Call It Sleep, Henry Roth, a retired waterfowl farmer already in his late eighties, shocked the literary world with the announcement that he had written a second novel. It was called, he reported, Mercy of a Rude Stream, the title inspired by Shakespeare, and it followed the travails of one Ira Stigman, whose family had just moved to New York’s Jewish Harlem in that "ominous summer of 1914."
"It is like hearing that…J. D. Salinger is preparing a sequel to The Catcher in the Rye," the New York Times Book Review pronounced, while Vanity Fair extolled Roth's new work as "the literary comeback of the century." Even more astonishing was that Roth had not just written a second novel but a total of four chronologically linked works, all part of Mercy of a Rude Stream. Dying in 1995 at the age of eighty-nine, Roth would not live to see the final two volumes of this tetralogy published, yet the reappearance of Mercy of a Rude Stream, a fulfillment of Roth's wish that these installments appear as one complete volume, allows for a twenty-first-century public to reappraise this late-in-life masterpiece, just as Call it Sleep was rediscovered by a new generation in 1964.
As the story unfolds, we follow the turbulent odyssey of Ira, along with his extended Jewish family, friends, and lovers, from the outbreak of World War I through his fateful decision to move into the Greenwich Village apartment of his muse and older lover, the seductive but ultimately tragic NYU professor Edith Welles. Set in both the fractured world of Jewish Harlem and the bohemian maelstrom of the Village, Mercy of a Rude Stream echoes Nabokov in its portrayal of sexual deviance, and offers a harrowing and relentless family drama amid a grand panorama of New York City in the 1910s and Roaring 20s.
Yet in spite of a plot that is fraught with depictions of menace, violence, and intense self-loathing, Mercy of a Rude Stream also contains a cathartic, even redemptive, overlay as "provocative as anything in the chapters of St. Augustine" (Los Angeles Times), in which an elder Ira, haunted by the sins of his youth, communes with his computer, Ecclesias, as he recalls how his family's traditional piety became corrupted by the inexorable forces of modernity. As Ira finally decides to get "the hell out of Harlem," his Proustian act of recollection frees him from the ravages of old age, and suddenly he is in his prime again, the entire telling of Mercy his final pronouncement.
Mercy of a Rude Stream is that rare work of fiction that creates, through its style and narration, a new form of art. Indeed, the two juxtaposed voices―one of the "little boys swimming in a sea of glory," the other of one of those same boys "in old age being rudely swept to sea"―creates a counterpoint, jarring yet oddly harmonious, that makes this prophetic American work such an lasting statement on the frailties of memory and the essence of human consciousness.
Mercy of a Rude Stream: The Complete Novels includes A Star Shines Over Mt. Morris Park, A Diving Rock on the Hudson, From Bondage, and Requiem for Harlem.
Boy, would that make a day’s pay, boyoboy! Eight bucks ahead without scarcely lifting a finger! She would certainly never remember him, never remember the incident when time came for her to “check in,” to cast up accounts. She would be—no, she wouldn’t be—the till would be eight bucks short. In her wry dismay with herself, would be eight bucks short. In her wry dismay with herself, would she redress the discrepancy with a trifling eight bucks from her own ample purse? Or would the Stevens dynasty
and Pop and Minnie. And while washing the weekend’s scarce-washed sweat and dust from face and hands, announce: “This is going to make a new man of me!” Oh, America! Mingling for a brief interval the free and lusty air of nature with the Jewish atmosphere of the cold-water flat on 119th Street in East Harlem. The whole thing is nuttier than a fruit cake, Ecclesias; to an old man, sex is nuttier than a fruit cake. —Why tell me? It didn’t evolve to suit your criteria of rationality. It evolved
couldn’t be! In this place, caught in this trap, in this fix? It couldn’t be real. It couldn’t be. Not Ira Stigman. He wasn’t—back. Back into deeper dark— “Wait, he’ll get in bed,” Stella breathed in his ear. “Yeah.” Soundlessly to make it happen. But instead, the gray beard, yarmulke, and underwear paunch that was Zaida shuffled toward the kitchen, stood expectantly in the light: “Mamie?” Sunk! If thought could bellow through cranium, the whole house would hear him. He was sunk. “Sleeping,
thee, and now excessive grown Prodigious motion felt and rueful throes. Damn right. He slapped the pages over. Book X, Book X. That was where he had left off: Full of sticky theology that old man Mott would be sure to ask about, pose questions requiring essay-type answers—at which he stunk. Well, he’d have to resign himself to losing credits—hell, skip it. Adam couldn’t figure it out either: O Conscience, into what abyss of fears And horrors hast thou driven me; out of which I find no way,
you staying here tonight?” “No, I’m staying at Edith’s apartment.” “Azoy. And for how long?” “That’s what I came to tell you. I don’t know.” Edith had asked him to bring some of his belongings to the apartment. Now that he was her lover, she saw no reason why he shouldn’t stay overnight more often. She would rather he did, she said: she missed his company. And that way too, staying with her often, he would avoid, avoid as much as possible, a recurrence of the ugly situation at home. Ugly