Aaron Roy Weintraub Additional Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Harold Brodkey distinguished himself as a chronicler of what it is like to grow up—in his case, Jewish and adopted—in the Midwest. He was born Aaron Roy Weintraub in 1930. His father was an illiterate junk man; his mother was bright, bookish, and fluent in five or six languages. After his mother died (Brodkey was still an infant), his father, unable to care for him, turned him over to Joseph and Doris Brodkey, who adopted him and gave him their surname. Brodkey lost his adoptive parents when he was in his teens: Joseph became an invalid because of a stroke and died five years later; Doris developed cancer one year before her husband’s death and died during her adopted son’s early days at Harvard University. After graduating from Harvard, Brodkey married novelist Ellen Schwann in 1980. They had a daughter, Emily, and made their home in New York City’s Upper East Side.{$S[A]Weintraub, Aaron Roy;Brodkey, Harold}

Although he published relatively little, Brodkey is generally regarded by thoughtful readers as one of the most meticulous literary craftsmen of the late twentieth century. He worked on a huge, Proustian novel with the working title “A Party of Animals,” based on his life from birth to the end of college, for some thirty years. It was finally published as The Runaway Soul in 1991. Portions of this novel, contracted in 1961 to Farrar, Straus and Giroux, appeared first in The New Yorker, New American Review, and Esquire. The work exceeded two thousand pages in typescript, and it was estimated that Brodkey minimally had taken each page through fifteen revisions, some pages through dozens more.

Brodkey’s first book, First Love and Other Sorrows, earned the enthusiastic praise of John Cheever, Mark Schorer, Frank O’Connor, and other well-known figures. Critics were particularly impressed by Brodkey’s ability to structure syntax, commenting often on the intricacy of his punctuation and of its function in creating sentences whose parts interlock with a startling symmetry. Brodkey did not seek in his writing to depict so much as to create experience.

To analyze Brodkey’s sentences is a remarkable experience. Many of them exceed one hundred words. The best of them are structured like Gothic cathedrals: Words dash down the nave to the transept, and flying buttresses of clauses and phrases support their superb equilibrium; the mortar, intricately and indivisibly a part of the total structure, is the conscious, labored punctuation that Brodkey used as no other writers have. Brodkey’s punctuation is never incidental to his words; it is a...

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