Anne Roiphe Essay - Critical Essays

Roiphe, Anne (Vol. 3)

Roiphe, Anne 1935–

Ms. Roiphe is an American novelist writing fiction that probes the condition of modern woman. She is the author of Up the Sandbox! and Long Division.

That Mrs. Roiphe is a natural writer of considerable talent is evident; whether or not she has been abetted by an involved and intelligent editor, she is clearly capable of creating a painfully recognizable human character and carrying that character through a series of realities and fantasies to a logical and resonant conclusion. By the nature of her sex and background—which are those of her protagonist—her novel ["Up the Sandbox"] cannot be the virtuoso feat, the tour de force, of Brian Moore's "I Am Mary Dunne," surely one of the best books ever written in the language by a man from a woman's viewpoint, but in a quiet, unsensational, and eventually gripping way Mrs. Roiphe has created a little masterpiece of her own….

With her second novel, Mrs. Roiphe is well on her way to an important statement about the position of women today—a statement all the more weighty for its lack of extremist bias, for the cool naturalism, edged with satire, it employs in treating with reality, and for the even colder questioning to which it subjects our prettiest escapist fantasies.

L. E. Sissman, in The New Yorker, April 17, 1971, pp. 146-47.

[Anne Roiphe] seems to have a rugged belief in marriage, yet she also questions it acutely. And she pays many tributes to imagined freedom. Her characters tug and pull against the restraints of relatives, spouses, children, past and upbringing.

In her excellent first novel, "Digging Out," a young woman resolved at her mother's graveside that she was going to be free of her devouring Jewish family: "The tribe does not take kindly to defection, but now that my mother was going into the ground I could leave them chanting in the temple…. I would become the first American in my family. To be an American one must have no root, no family, perhaps a few hastily covered graves along the freeway."

In "Up the Sandbox!," a wife who's eagerly committed to her husband and small children also hurtles into fantasies of herself as a bridge-bombing revolutionary, or spending a night with Castro, or going to Vietnam. Free in her head but fettered by daily drudgeries, she wants "to be a multiple person, to experience as much as possible." Yet she firmly celebrates motherhood, which appears as the wellspring of her existence. "Sandbox!" has been like a Rorschach test for many readers: Some see a character who yearns for liberation, while others insist that she's afraid of it.

Some of these conflicts spring up in "Long Division," which is smaller in scope than Anne Roiphe's previous novels. It's as though her narrator were pausing to pant, sifting some ashes, shaking out experiences in the breeze….

Disentangling, working loose; the novel is a compressed study of that process, and Anne Roiphe is extremely skilled at the non sequiturs of emotion—the memories or fantasies that set one another off, the chains of uncomfortably free associations. This book doesn't have the range of her first two, perhaps because the remembered husband is too shadowy; just your average brute chosen by a woman with a taste for pain. But the writing is exhilarating throughout; it's the voice of an urban nomad who truly respects the ridiculous.

Nora Sayre, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1972 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), November 5, 1972, pp. 5, 22.