So I Married a Communist by Philip Roth

Roth’s Zuckerman novels are some of the most moving books I have ever read.  So I Married a Communist meditates upon the relationality of subjectivity, much like Roth’s earlier American Pastoral.  The intertextuality of the narratives re-telling raises important questions about the way in which Iron Rinn, Roth’s main protagonist, is constructed through his brother and through Zuckerman (Roth’s authorial alter-ego).  Roth is keen to explore how the act of re-telling is a re-construction of both the teller and the told.  Musings on intertextuality have little to offer that is new: therefore, rather than reviewing the work as a whole I want to consider a few key lines or ideas from Roth as part of this over-arching theme.

Zuckerman, as a young man, is invited into Iron Rinn’s home and is introduced to Sylphid (Rinn’s step-daughter).  Zuckerman is engulfed in this charismatic and sarcastic personality.  Zuckerman remembers ‘how delicious to belittle people-and to watch them being belittled… I couldn’t deprive myself of this first class education in the pleasures of spite’ (p. 131).  You cannot help but wonder whether this pleasure drives the narrative forward.  Zuckerman, who once willingly sat beneathIron Rinn’s ideological weight, is now hearing the brother of Rinn re-tell the story of a man tragically flawed.

Moreover, a keen sense of irony needs to be retained if one is to consider Roth’s critique of McCarthyism later on in the book as ‘the first postwar flowering of American unthinking that is now everywhere’ (p. 284).  Surelythe pleasure of spite recurs in such a phrase.  To be sure, ‘the pleasure of spite’ is not the only driving force of the narrative, rather each character is richly portrayed, except, perhaps, for Rinn’s brother, Murray.  Murray struggles to emerge from Zuckerman’s memorialised view of his former teacher; though there is certainly a sense in which Roth wants to explore this dynamic.  There is something tragic about the way Murray struggles for to define his own sense of subjectivity through Zuckerman.  It is only in Murray confession’s of his betrayal of his wife’s that he seems to have finally re-configured himself.

Here is Roth’s most moving point.  The twisted and indissociable relationships between Rinn and Eve (his wife), & Eve and Sylphid (her daughter) drive the novel forward and Roth unsettles his reader by placing those relations right in our own homes.  Betrayal becomes the only story, ever since Adam blamed Eve for eating the fruit betrayal is the only story worth telling.  Or as Zuckerman observes “It’s all error. There’s the heart of the world.  Nobody finds his life.  That is life”.  The re-telling is always a betrayal and most often it is a betrayal of those we are closest to.

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