Rogin, Gilbert 1929–
Rogin is an American novelist and short story writer who is at his best when dealing with the intelligent New Yorker trying to unscramble life's meaning. Many critics have compared his work with that of Saul Bellow. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 65-68.)
The men Gilbert Rogin writes about in his first book, The Fencing Master and Other Stories …, for the most part go through the motions of life, but in a kind of permanent shock, haunted by an unfocused feeling of guilt about the past, astonished by the present, and traumatically blind to the future. Human relationships, above all, paralyze them: they live, as the wife in "Lesser Married" points out to her husband, in constant terror that contact with another will somehow "diminish" them….
In an understated, allusive style Mr. Rogin evokes the stunned bewilderment that visits most of us at times. But since his characters have little history and experience nothing beyond alternating numbness and fright, they lack flesh and bones, and wander like self-pitying ghosts from ignorance to ignorance….
Ruth Brown, "Nothing to Fear But Fear," in Saturday Review (copyright © 1965 by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. 48, No. 31, July 31, 1965, p. 21.
The fine ear, the elaborate—and rather unenlightening—simile, the self indulgence, both verbal and moral, are all characteristic [of The Fencing Master]. What the story has to say about the cost of involvement is plain, but [Rogin] goes to excessive trouble to find radical images to represent his meaning. The feverish overtones of Conrad and Golding seem to be there only to make an arbitrary and wholly "literary" ambiguity seem to have a point. But that it does have seems doubtful.
Rogin has read his Bellow too. When he writes in that master's manner (as in "Chico King Popular Singer") the edge gets harder, there is manic comedy and even some tenderness which is neither mocked nor overamplified. [For] Rogin, unlike Bellow, the whole absurd and awful business of living a life reduced to a series of slogans passed back and forth between people ends up more pathetic than savage.
Three stories in the collection, in which Rogin's sorry young man is named Howard Lesser, have something in addition to the rewards of a fine mimetic ear…. It is no mean accomplishment to describe a good person, and though Lesser often proclaims his father's goodness in extravagant terms, the reality of it comes out with moving simplicity in the old man's conversation and diary…. But the reconciling presence of the father, with his imagined virtues ("Prudence! Justice! Temperance! Fortitude"—Lesser half-ironically sees them as...
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Brooding, intensely introspective and yet gifted with a self-mocking, ironic wit, the hero of ["What Happens Next?"] is a spiritual descendant of Moses Herzog. He dreams flamboyantly, then punctures his own fantasies with relentless honesty. His spirit soars toward athletic feats and redemptive journeys, but his reality is Ace Bandages and grim vacation motel rooms with no view of the ocean…. Rejecting the easy answers and unable to find the hard ones, Singer [the protagonist] is frustrated and, ultimately, vaguely unsatisfying as a hero. But because Gilbert Rogin often writes with the humor and sensitivity of the best work of Saul Bellow, he has created a worthy addition to the genre.
Because "What Happens Next?" is a narrative fashioned from a series of separately conceived short stories, it lacks the sustained drama or full vision of a novel like "Herzog." But within its limitations, it is a finely crafted, thoroughly entertaining piece of writing.
Pete Axthelm, "Rounding up the New Novels: 'What Happens Next?'" in Newsweek (copyright 1971 by Newsweek, Inc.; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. LXXVIII, No. 17, October 25, 1971, p. 120.
L. E. Sissman
The odd thing about "What Happens Next?" is that it's almost not a novel at all…. [The chapters of the novel, first published as a series of stories,] still retain a shade of the disjunctiveness of individual stories, the more so since they vary widely in form and experimental technique. But the intensity of Rogin's central vision and the virtuosity of his prose are such that they cohere and build more surely, perhaps, than a formal, one-piece novel could have done….
[The first chapter] seems to contain echoes of Salinger (New York apartment-dwellers' family life), Bellow (the decedent melancholy of Verdi Square), Roth (the loneliness of the long-distance loser), and especially Perelman (surreal, hilarious conversations among television types). But in the second chapter, a blow-by-verbal-blow description of Singer's strangled relations with his second wife, the book begins to become something far richer and stranger than any mere comic account of city life….
[Tours] de force of technique conjure up the cast of characters not in one but in many incarnations. People who first appear as near stereotypes, though brilliantly rendered ones, like Singer's parents (his mother, by a feat of perfect pitch, stands revealed by her conversation as the spokesman of her pompous, comfortable, sure generation), mutate under shifting circumstances and viewpoints into the unassailable mysteries all people really are. Characters...
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Joyce Carol Oates
It is fascinating, the risks Rogin takes in [What Happens Next?]: he has narrowed his focus upon a very few personalities and a very few ideas, he insists upon working down and through and ultimately inside his protagonist, who is a Stereotype locked in a series of boxes of Stereotypes (relationships with Father, with Wife, with Self, with the inevitable Alter-Egos, with the Insanity of Contemporary Life, etc.). Such a deliberate limiting of subject matter could have been disastrous, but Rogin succeeds wonderfully….
Because Rogin is also very funny his work is in danger of being underestimated—we do not really believe that one can speak truth with a smiling face, not really….
The work is sometimes aggravating, sometimes slowed down in a maddeningly literal way, as when Singer feels he must report to us the various good/bad features of his Florida trip. And perhaps it is too long…. But most of the time Rogin's writing is poised between the banal "outer" world we have seen before—too often before—and his own sharp, endlessly clever, endlessly questioning appreciation of it. (p. 143)
[The characters are always about to become stereotypes] and yet they resist categorization, just as Singer resists finally adding them up to anything, fixing them in place, declaring them known. They are given a kind of tentative form by Singer's speculative narrations about them, but the form is never permanent; they can easily be reimagined, glimpsed out a window doing some odd thing and then erased, and reimagined elsewhere….
Working with so much that is familiar, Rogin has accomplished a unique vision and, in what is only his second book, seems to have brought to near perfection his own style. Perhaps the answer to his question—What Happens Next?—will be, for Rogin, an exploration of another kind of fiction altogether. (p. 144)
Joyce Carol Oates, "Risk-Taking," in Partisan Review (copyright © 1973 by Partisan Review, Inc.), Vol. XL, No. 1, 1973, pp. 143-46.
Mr. Rogin is subtle, original and refreshingly intelligent. Furthermore, his is a literate voice. But having just finished reading his first novel in eight years, "Preparations for the Ascent," I have to say that though I both enjoyed and admired it, and even laughed out loud more than once, I'm not sure I understood it, which is embarrassing, very embarrassing….
There is something … maddening and elusive about "Preparations for the Ascent"—it's not always clear to me where we are or just what is happening right now—but the melancholy voice is so distinctive, charged with such sour wit, that I'd rather be baffled by Gilbert Rogin than read a story made plain by many a more accessible but...
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[Preparations for the Ascent is] clever and amusing at first, but Rogin won't let go. Each line must be smart….
[From Albert's] behavior you can hardly tell where he is or what he is doing. Nothing changes. The rhythm of his monologue is no more affected by circumstances than is Rogin's carefully structured prose.
Let it be said that Rogin never falters. Preparations for the Ascent wraps New York neatly in a package of tinfoil….
Evan Connell, "Beyond the Horizon," in New York Magazine (copyright © 1980 by News Group Publications, Inc.; reprinted with the permission of New York Magazine), Vol. 13, No. 15, April...
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[Preparations for the Ascent continues from What Happens Next?, the patchwork saga of Julian Singer, now called Albert.] If the blend of names puts you in mind of Alvy Singer, the hero of the Woody Allen-Marshall Brickman Annie Hall, it probably should, because Rogin's creative itch is similar to Allen's and Brickman's—the need to parse in prose one's own life, the life of the erudite, neurotic Manhattan male, the man who has read everything only to find it hasn't helped much. (p. 38)
If it is true that writers should write about what they know, and if what one knows best is oneself, then Rogin is plumbing the possibilities, suggesting that the most difficult task we face is...
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