Author Henry Roth's hero resurrected in final novel

Thu Jun 3, 2010 3:40pm EDT
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By Edward McAllister

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The curious story of Jewish-American novelist Henry Roth has taken one last turn.

Fifteen years after his death, the author who wrote one of America's great immigrant novels has been resurrected with the publication of his final work, "An American Type."

From a manuscript of Roth's last writing, which sat untouched for years, a young fiction editor at the New Yorker, Willing Davidson, shaped what will be Roth's posthumous parting shot -- an autobiographical story about arriving at adulthood and falling in love.

"An American Type," in U.S. bookstores on June 7, is his sunniest novel, those most familiar with his work say. It was edited from a manuscript of nearly 2,000 pages written by an elderly arthritic Roth during the late 1980s.

"Roth in many ways thought a lot about himself, but in this book he turns his attention outward," Davidson, 32, told Reuters. "In doing so, he discovers a lot of comedy and joy in life around him."

The novel reintroduces his alter ego Ira Stigman -- also the hero of his earlier novel "Mercy of a Rude Stream" -- as he travels across the United States and courts his eventual wife M., based on his real-life spouse Muriel Parker.

Set in 1938 and mapped largely from his journals written at that time, it is perhaps one of the last firsthand accounts of the United States during the depression.

Roth's last novel is a first for Davidson, who took on the project four years ago when the papers were handed over to the New Yorker from former Roth editor Robert Weil.   Continued...

<p>Author Henry Roth is shown in this undated photo taken by Hugh Roth and released to Reuters June 3, 2010. REUTERS/Hugh Roth/W. W. Norton &amp; Company/Handout</p>