The title A DIVING ROCK ON THE HUDSON alludes to Ira Stigman’s temptation to end his despair by drowning himself in the Hudson River. He is going to be expelled from high school for petty thievery. He has far worse things on his conscience. He has regularly been committing incest with his sister. Although he hates himself, Ira cannot break off this relationship even after going through a nightmare of suspense when Minnie misses her period.
Roth, who was eighty-nine when this second volume was published, uses the fictional device of discussing creative difficulties with his word processor, which he calls Ecclesias. Talking to a machine emphasizes the isolation of a near-nonagenarian who has outlived his entire generation. The real plot holding the entire six-volume work together will have to do with a dying author’s struggle to complete it while telling bitter truths.
The reader cannot help but assume that Roth is confessing his own sins in thinly disguised fiction. Not expecting to live to see all six volumes in print, Roth seems indifferent to money and acclaim. His sporadic dialogues with Ecclesias suggest that he is motivated by a desire to exorcise guilty memories as well as a compulsion to fulfill his destiny as a writer after sixty years of self-imposed silence.
A DIVING ROCK ON THE HUDSON ends with a classic epiphany. Young Ira, plagued with feelings of guilt and inferiority, has an essay published in the New York City College literary quarterly, THE LAVENDER. This achievement transforms his life; he will devote his life to literature.
Although Roth’s story of adolescent relationships is mostly mundane, he writes with wisdom, candor, craftsmanship, and the “high seriousness” that Matthew Arnold called the distinguishing attribute of great writers. The final four volumes of MERCY OF A RUDE STREAM, finished but scheduled to be published one per year until the end of the twentieth century, will complete a unique achievement in American literature.
Sources for Further Study
Booklist. XCI, December 15, 1994, p. 715.
Boston Globe. March 12, 1995, p. 38.
Chicago Tribune. February 19, 1995, XIV, p. 1.
Kirkus Reviews. LXII, December 1, 1994, p. 1570.
Library Journal. CXX, February 1, 1995, p. 100.
The New York Times Book Review. C, February 26, 1995, p. 5.
The Observer. April 2, 1995, p. 19.
Publishers Weekly. CCXLI, December 12, 1994, p. 50.
The Times Literary Supplement. April 14, 1995, p. 20.
The Washington Post Book World. XXV, February 5, 1995, p. 5.