I Married a Communist

by Philip Roth

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

I Married a Communist is a 1998 novel written by American novelist and short story writer Philip Roth. It tells the story of Ira Ringold, also known as Iron Rinn, starting from his days spent working as a ditch digger, a waiter, and a zinc miner in New Jersey and continuing through his days spent as a famous radio star married to actress Eve Frame, resolving in his tragic fall, when his wife writes a memoir in which she accuses him of being a communist.

Little Tom Paine has no choice but to write him off, to betray the father and go boldly forth to step straight into life’s very first pit. And then, all on his own—providing real unity to his existence—to step from pit to pit for the rest of his days, until the grave, which, if it has nothing else to recommend it, is at least the last pit into which one can fall.

The story is narrated by Nathan Zuckerman, Roth’s partial alter ego, who describes, in great detail, the disastrous marriage between Ira and Eve. In her memoir, I Married a Communist, Eve writes of her own background, presenting herself as an elegant and sophisticated woman who seldom does anything wrong.

Look, everything the Communists say about capitalism is true, and everything the capitalists say about Communism is true. The difference is, our system works because it's based on the truth about people's selfishness, and theirs doesn't because it's based on a fairy tale about people's brotherhood. It's such a crazy fairy tale they've got to take people and put them in Siberia in order to get them to believe it.

Why, emotionally, is a man of his type reciprocally connected to a woman of her type? The usual reason: their flaws fit.

Ira hires a journalist to investigate the story, and he discovers that Eve has misrepresented herself, which casts doubts upon all her claims and reports in the memoir. Ironically, her one true claim—that her husband is a communist—is discredited because of the other lies she told about herself. Essentially, Roth’s novel is a tragicomic, quasi-biographical satire of betrayal, love, marriage, and loyalty that depicts the dramatic rise and fall of one American anti-hero.

As an artist the nuance is your task. Your task is not to simplify. Even should you choose to write in the simplest way, a la Hemingway, the task remains to impart the nuance, to elucidate the complication, to imply the contradiction. Not to erase the contradiction, not to deny the contradiction, but to see where, within the contradiction, lies the tormented human being. To allow for the chaos, to let it in. You must let it in. Otherwise you produce propaganda, if not for a political party, a political movement, and then stupid propaganda for life itself—for life as it might itself prefer to be publicized.

. . . It is beyond belief and also a fact, a plain and indisputable face: that we are born, that this is here. I can think of worse ways to end my day.

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