Earl Rovit Essay - Critical Essays

Rovit, Earl

Rovit, Earl 1927–

Rovit is an American novelist and critic. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)

Earl Rovit's The Player King, a first novel published in 1965, could serve as a textbook introduction to [the] whole literary image of the Jew. Rovit is a novelist with dazzling verbal gifts (in sharp contrast to all the other new writers) and with an artistic self-consciousness that is occasionally an asset but more often a serious impediment to his writing. His novel is framed by opening and concluding dialogues between the author and a Yiddish-accented alter ego. Moreover, there is an inner frame, the journal of a novelist who is presumably writing the principal story; and inserted between chapters of what one hesitantly calls the novel itself are parodies of imagined reviews of the book and a Paris Review interview with the author of The Player King. In all this literary talk, which is sometimes very bright and often quite funny, Rovit suggestively characterizes the myth in which his characters are caught up and out of which he—"vaudevillian of the interior consciousness … crucified clown of the esthetic high wire"—has contrived a distinctive narrative mode.

According to Rovit, or rather one of his several personae, the two great myths of Christian literature, Christ and Faust, the Victim and the Victimizer, are dead, and their place is now taken by the myth of the Jew, at once a grotesque figure of fun and an uncanny shaman-hero….

There is unresolved irony here: it is hard to know just what is meant seriously and what satirically. This very irresolution is Rovit's way of hanging onto both the grotesque mask and the sentimental image behind the mask. But the mythicized Jew, sheltering in that "mysterious greasy black of the ghetto," is clearly present both in this passage and elsewhere in the novel, for all the ingenious disguises Rovit provides him. (p. 73)

Robert Alter, in Commentary (reprinted from Commentary by permission; © 1965 by the American Jewish Committee), September, 1965.

A capacity for lived and imagined pain unites the two main characters of Earl Rovit's second novel, "A Far Cry." The central themes of the book come from the predominantly Jewish mainstream in American letters, but Rovit's implementation is wholly unique. He approaches the particularly modern problem of guilt and redemption by constructing two parallel but completely independent narratives; he then attempts to fuse them, by an act of imagination, within the cosmic frame of Christ's Passion….

"A Far Cry" is both deft and audacious. Rovit, demonstrating a respect for traditional craftsmanship, endows each of the narratives with its own suspense and catharsis. And even though his fusion of the respective fates of Lazzaro and Pfeist into a single cohesive statement about the human condition fails to evolve from the symbolic nexus, remaining largely implied (as opposed to achieved), he has written a powerful book.

The meaning he extracts from his material is especially significant for a time which has seen, day by day, how guilt and suffering, potentially humanizing experiences, pass debased and unmourned from the realm of feeling.

Peter Collier, "Profiles in Courage," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1967 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), July 2, 1967, p. 19.

The surface of Earl Rovit's third novel, Crossings, is intricate and resplendently original. The book can be begun, literally, from either end, allowing the reader to experience the events of a single day from either of two directions. Each of four major characters has a chance to describe these events as they appear to him or her, so the act of reading Crossings becomes a process of making judgments and then balancing, modifying, and correcting them as new reports came in from elsewhere, reports that are equally true but equally prejudiced and thus never quite a confirmation, though rarely an explicit contradiction, of what one has been led to believe. But since the book starts at both ends, two narratives unfold simultaneously in opposite directions, meaning, in a way, that there are really two books here, and emphasizing, in each reader's irreversible choice of which one to read, the relentless consequences of choice, and even of belief in choice, within the novel itself.

These particulars of design ally Crossings with much of the most ambitious contemporary fiction, which seeks to blur its identity as fiction by actively involving the reader in the novelistic process, making him a character in the work, and a force in its eventual outcome. It would be a mistake, however, to insist too strongly on the experimental, post-modernist nature of Crossings, for not only does it develop a complex historical theme, but beneath its glittering surface are the enduring rhythms of literature, and of myth, that resist ultimate isolation and reductive categorization. (p. 410)

Mark Taylor, in Commonweal (copyright © 1974 Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.; reprinted by permission of Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.), July 26, 1974.