An American Type: A Novel

An American Type: A Novel


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This glorious, evocative, literary novel for the ages (Los Angeles Times) has finally taken its place within the great canon of American fiction. Set during the Great Depression, against a backdrop of New York s glimmering skyscrapers and Los Angeles s seedy motor courts, this autobiographical work concludes the unparalleled saga of Henry Roth, whose classic Call It Sleep, published in 1934, went on to become one of Time s 100 best American novels of the twentieth century. With echoes of Nathanael West and John Steinbeck, An American Type is a heartrending statement about American identity and the universal transcendence of love."

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393339925
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 06/27/2011
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 967,736
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Henry Roth (1906–1995) spent his early years on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. In 1914, the Roth family moved to Jewish Harlem. Roth died in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Willing Davidson is a fiction editor at The New Yorker.

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An American Type 2.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
JerryColonna on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I started my love affair with Henry Roth like most finding a tattered old copy of Call It Sleep. Over the last 25 years, I've grown up with David/Ira and learned about life, pain, and the struggle for authenticity while witnessing Roth's re-opening as a writer.
kristincedar on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An American Type, by Henry Roth has the bloodline for the archetypal American novel, but not the heart. Roth had the pedigree to produce fantastic works of what culture is, but American Type misses the mark. The story is disjointed, fantastic in parts, but confusing in total. Personally, the characters that are just named by initials do not add or subtract from the story, but rather pull the reader away from the immersion that is required for this genre. Unfortunately it feels like novel was a sequel produced just to have a second.
susanbooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I only stuck with this book because it was sent to me as an Early Reviewer. That's happened before & I've felt rewarded for my perseverance. Here? Not so much. The Prologue starts out wonderfully: "I was courting a young woman, if the kind of brusque, uncertain, equivocal attentions I paid her might be called courting." The writing continues, beautiful, lyrical, lush in its verisimilitude. Then the characters make the mistake of talking. And continue to make that mistake for a few hundred more pages. As others have said, Ira, the protagonist, isn't someone most people would want to spend time with. He's insecure yet arrogant. While other writers could do wonderful things with the ironic possibilities inherent in that tension, Roth lets those opportunities pass; he seems to think Ira is a sympathetic character.And he is, compared to other characters, for instance, the blue-collar union member Bill. We know Ira is better than Bill because Bill speaks entirely in "dese" and "dose" phrases, not a "th" to be found. We can trust that Ira is right to look down on Bill: Ira is not just educated, he's CCNY educated (as we're told time & time again). Ira is a man of the people who has nevertheless managed to transcend his background; he knows what he's talking about.Then there's capital-L Lesbian "M." She doesn't immediately kowtow to Ira, thus he knows she's gay. Later her title is revised to "lesbian-seeming" because Ira (and we can imagine only Ira could have done this) has won her over to the hetero team. There's a cast of other characters, all equally flat & improbable. Edith, Ira's wife, doesn't want to give him a divorce solely because she believes in his talent & doesn't want him to ruin himself with M. A "negro" appears briefly & is suitably mysterious & surrounded by menace. Ira's mom is around just long enough to spout a few Jewish mother cliches. Cliches are what this book is made of. It's a rehash of the most tired parts of Kerouac, post WW2 Hollywood fantasy, and Norman-Maileresque white male panic. It's possible that this book could have been published to acclaim in the 50s, maybe even as late as the 70s. There are very few readers now (I hope) who are willing to sympathize with a character simply because he's straight, white, male, & educated. Take away those signs of privilege & Ira has nothing going for him, not even the lonely grandeur of tragedy. Again, another writer could do wonderful things with this. Jonathan Ames, for instance, in The Extra Man deals with the loss of those privileges in a wise, funny, & sophisticated way. This book is published posthumously. I'm sure it's a delight to Roth fans & scholars just that it exists. For a reader who is neither (though I love the first half of Call It Sleep), this is just beautifully written, outdated, somewhat offensive tedium.
richardderus on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Posthumous books don't often turn out well (eg, Dream of Fair to Middling Women oh dear oh dear). Books excavated from immense piles of prose don't often turn out well (eg, Of Time and the River, echhh) either. And this book is both. Did it turn out well? Compared to Call It Sleep, no. Compared to much of the publishing world's present output, yeah.I found Ira, the author's alter ego, to be a bit tedious in all Roth's books. I don't love Rabbit Angstrom (John Updike's most famous character) either. But editor Willing Davidson (what a great name!) found some less irritatingly self-absorbed things to focus this novel on than, say, the entire book A Star Shines Over Mt. Morris Park, which I found nigh on unreadably whiny. Ira's love for his wife M is a huge point in his favor, and though she is never brought to life in the text but is instead shorthanded in as "aureate" or "golden" or smilingly bathed in the sort of light that the Virgin Mary is usually portrayed lit by, she remains the believeable focus of Ira's striving and working and expending effort on. It's curious how that happened; I usually have a hard time with characters that are sketched in when they occupy a central place in a narrative. I felt M, represented by a simple single letter, was appropriately left as an Object of Veneration; it was *right* somehow that she was a collection of qualities with no recognizable voice of her own.Edith, God love her, is as much a cipher as ever, and luckily little missed in this book.I compare this mining job to the pseudo-weighty Jonathan Littell and Andrea Levy stuff lighting things up in Literatureland; An American Type is refreshingly honest and clear and taut compared to those book, among others I've read that have received unstinting praise. It deserves a place on every Roth lover's shelves. I won't recommend it wholeheartedly because it's a bit dull compared to his brilliant first book, and fourth book (A Diving Rock on the Hudson). But give it a chance...there is magic at the very end, worth working for, worth making the effort to see...much like Roth felt life was, I think.
TimBazzett on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Having read Henry Roth's classic novel of the Jewish immigrant experience, CALL IT SLEEP, while still in college forty years ago, I looked forward to this "newly discovered" novel found in his papers and published fifteen years after his death. Unfortunately, the book, AN AMERICAN TYPE, which was supposedly distilled from a couple thousand pages of text, failed to deliver. Despite what I am quite sure was a careful and respectful job of editing, the novel rambled and dragged on for most of its edited length of something less than three hundred pages. I mean, I get it that perhaps the guys wanderings from NYC to L.A. and back across the country, by car, freight train and bus during the Depression was meant to reflect the economic hard times, and that the Communist Party was quite active in the U.S. at the time, as reflected in Ira's hook-handed ranting friend, Bill Loem. But the fact is, the book's protagonist, the same Ira Stigman from Roth's more successful autobigraphical CIS, was simply not a very sympathetic or likeable character. As his older benefactress-poet-paramour Edith described him in a letter, he was "first and foremost a completely self-engrossed individualist ... [with] no emotional imagination about anyone on earth but yourself ..." Bingo, Edith. I had to agree with her. Editor Davidson calls AN AMERICAN TYPE a love story, but it seemed Ira Stigman loved no one more than himself. Stigman's self-absorption and self-pity became cloying and unpleasant from the early pages of the book and things didn't get much better. I know I'm not a "real" literary critic, but if this novel - or whatever this posthumous editor's invention should properly be called - had not been written by Henry Roth, I probably wouldn't have bothered to finish it at all. It dragged and meandered, agonized, philosophized and blathered in a boring fashion that repeatedly put me to sleep. But I slogged on to the bitter end. And it was bitter. In my everyman's estimation, the publication this year (2010) of AN AMERICAN TYPE will do little to enhance the reputation of Roth. Sometimes a writer has only one really good book in him. In Roth's case, it was CALL IT SLEEP, happily "rediscovered" in the sixties, and still in print over seventy years after its original publication. Thanks for that one, Henry.
SigmundFraud on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A well written novel but i didn't care enough about Ira, the protagonist, who emigrates from Europe as a child in his mother's arms early in the 20th century. His is the life of a poor Jewish immigrant on the lower east side. Ira's story seems to resemble Roth's. Ira is a writer who suffers from writer's block. He goes to Yaddo to try to produce his book but comes away with no book but a girlfriend who he finally marries after many travails. His peregrinations across America and back during the Depression give the reader a good feeling for life during the depression when work was so difficult to come by and many like Ira were dependent on home relief. Ira lived hand to mouth during this period and often sponged off friends who were not that better off. His close friend Bill becomes a Communist. Ira joins the Communist party but he always feels like a "petty boorjwase" and doesn't seem to have much conviction re Communism. It is worth a read for a peek into the depression years.
berthirsch on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
AN AMERICAN TYPE by Henry RothHaving grown up in a Jewish family and seeing the 1964 paperback edition of CALL IT SLEEP prominently displayed I have a long deep appreciation for Henry Roth as a writer and depicter of the Jewish experience in New York City and America That Call It Sleep is a masterpiece is a well accepted fact. THe story of David Schearl is one that remains in memory and thoughts long after one has read the book.Unfortunately this latest, posthumously edited and published book, entitled An American Type is a great disappointment to this reader. I approached this book with genuine interest and great anticipation and was sadly disappointed that it lacked the deep, rich layering and characters that appeared in Roth¿s earlier masterpiece. This book tells the story (autobiographical) of a young novelist trying to make it with a second book or by driving to Hollywood to become a screenwriter. He falls in love with a pianist at the famous Yaddo artists retreat in upstate NY and decides to leave the nurturing guidance of his older lover who helped guide him to his earlier success.This could be a good metaphor for this book. Roth¿s words are dull and the story is ultimately boring. Perhaps it is time to end the quest for his 2nd masterpiece and to celebrate the marvelous Call It Sleep in its own right.
laytonwoman3rd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ira Stigman is near the end of his life. His wife has recently died. Naturally, he finds himself in a mood to reflect on the past, particularly the time when he met his wife-- ¿M¿--and was trying to ¿find himself¿ on a tiresome, navel-gazing cross-country quest. That time was during the Great Depression and the beginning of the Nazi era in Germany. Ira was a Jew who did not practice his religion, a Communist who seemed to lack any commitment to the cause, a writer who didn¿t write. In fact, he seemed to have no passion for anything, including the women in his life, who could steer him around, but never really led him anywhere. There is little to like about this character and not much to capture this reader¿s interest in his tale. Perhaps a familiarity with other Roth novels would have helped. Perhaps if Roth had lived to finalize this story himself, rather than leaving it to a posthumous editor to turn ¿batch 2¿ of an enormous manuscript into a novel, there might have been more zest to it. The essence of my reaction to Ira and to An American Type was well-expressed by the author himself, in the form of a letter to Ira from his lover/benefactress Edith after he left her in New York to drive to California with a comrade: ¿You are first and foremost a completely self-engrossed individualist, to whom communism, the proletariat, or your friends and intimates have meant nothing, except what you could feed on. You have no emotional imagination about anyone on earth but yourself¿I¿m very tired of your rationalizations based on society, or your own pain, or your need to grow to maturity.¿ Atta girl, Edith. But I wouldn¿t have enclosed that check.
Beezie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sometimes, a book looks good on the shelf. You get it home and plow through it, stopping only to relieve yourself. This book falls into the opposite category. it looked great. It was not. As I read, I felt vaguely offended but not at all provoked. I kept putting it down. I finally abandoned the thing.
janemarieprice on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ira has one successful novel and a controlling lover and benefactor. After finding love at a nature retreat, he leaves his former lover and sets out for California to make a life for himself and his new love. For a semi-autobiographical novel, Ira is not a particularly likeable character ¿ neurotic and simultaneously selfish and lacking self-esteem. However, he is not dislikeable either and I found that dichotomy interesting. It is a very bleak plot, emotionally in particular, for example: ¿The earth having been dug away from around its roots, the tree in the adjoining yard outside Ira¿s window lay on the ground. His dandruff fell glimmering from his fingers clawing through his hair. Now, with rhythmic rip and scrape, crosscut saw with a man at each end, bit into the tree trunk. Eucalyptus logs are tawny in hue¿¿ and ¿They had no right to pluck Ira out like a radish, like a beet, like a scallion, like a parsnip from among his own. And force him to grow hydroponically, a root crop like him¿¿ There was a really delightful bit about riding the rails An American Type was published posthumously and edited down from some two thousand pages. It suffers from what you would expect in such a work ¿ disjointed bits of narrative in particular. However, there is some beautiful writing. I never found myself annoyed or bored while reading. Only when I finished did I feel like the whole thing didn¿t gel for me. There were several interesting episodes ¿ a delightful bit about riding the rails for instance ¿ which perhaps would have worked better as short stories. Note: I received this through LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
jwm24 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Henry Roth's editor's "last" book, an "autobiographical" "novel" that skips over the years of composition and publication of Call It Sleep and picks up Ira Stigman's story ten years after the conclusion of Mercy of a Rude Stream, is a must for completists, of which I technically cannot be one since An American Type is the first Roth book I've had the pleasure of reading cover to cover. Like Mercy, An American Type alternates between the past events of the story and the present-day, in which the newly-widowed narrator recalls the events that led to his marriage. After meeting M, his future wife, at a residency at Yaddo financed by his current lover, Edith, Ira joins up with his working-class hero, Bill Loem, for a trip to California in Ira's car. It doesn't take long for Ira to become disillusioned with Bill and with communism. After a humiliating attempt to sell his novel to some movie producers, Ira returns to New York, riding the rails and thumbing rides--the most evocative of these scenes was excerpted in The New Yorker last year. Some of them recall On the Road sans Dean Moriarty.Like his protagonist, Roth had turned to communism after losing his faith in literary modernism--he had begun to feel alienated from the Greenwich Village crowd of which Edith was a member. Many critics point to Roth's incest (with a cousin and with his sister) as the dark secret that led to his fifty-year writer's block, but this double disillusionment, first with the avant-garde and then with socialist realism, probably had at least an equal effect. It's hard enough for a writer to renounce his previous work once. To do so twice, especially for a perennial outsider like Roth, must be exponentially more paralyzing. Mario Materassi has described Roth's great theme as "the anguished [story] of a man who, throughout his life, has contradicted each of his previously held positions and beliefs." Of course, it could be that Roth's succession of intellectual positions were but ineffectual shields from his personal demons.The text has been much altered by Willing Davidson from the 1900-page "batch 2" left among Roth's papers, and is probably in a much more conventionally chronological order than the author might have settled on. Some episodes, like Ira's dinner at a German restaurant with his prospective in-laws, don't come to much of anything, and probably would have been rewritten or cut were Roth still around to be consulted.
IsolaBlue on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It is always somewhat eerie to hear of a new book being published by an author who is no longer living. But, since that author may have seduced us in the past (as Roth did with "Call It Sleep"), then the reader is willing to take a chance on the "new." In the case of "An American Type," it doesn't matter how Roth wrote or what he wrote about; it's about what he remembered at the end of his life, what was important to him, what was on his mind. Most of Roth's work throughout his life was largely autobiographical, so it is difficult to look at the fictional Ira as anyone other than Roth himself. As this is fairly well documented, the reader does not feel a traitor to fiction writers in highlighting the importance of Roth's life events in this novel. "An American Life" shows us that at the end of his life, elderly and in pain, Roth thought back on times, places, and people that were important to him. He writes about life for a struggling young writer (struggling both financially and creatively) in both New York and California during the Great Depression. His relationship with the woman who understood him best and who later became his wife is threaded throughout the pages; she seemed to be the glue that kept him together. Other interesting parts of the book are his brief time in California, his stint as a hobo, his subsistence life on Home Relief, his Jewish background and upbringing and its influences upon him, his discomfort with racial discrimination and with homosexuality and his grappling to understand both. The editor, Willing Davidson, mentions in his afterword that he extracted this novel from over 1900 Roth manuscript pages. Although one can understand Davidson's desire to find and publish a novel, the reader can't help but think that a book of vignettes by Roth, a collage of revelatory writing and observations might have been preferable to a novel. Certainly Davidson found enough vignettes in Roth's lengthy manuscript. Perhaps next time he is confronted by many words on many pages by an author, he will look for the fragments of memory that most stand out and present them for what they are rather than trying to turn them into what they are not.