(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Mercy of a Rude Stream is narrated by a fictitious character in his late eighties living alone in New Mexico. Stigman closely resembles the real author, who died in Albuquerque at eighty-nine. The octogenarian Stigman is writing about growing up in New York City. Young Ira’s life parallels what is known about Roth’s own early life. Mercy of a Rude Stream, a work of pure realism, is thinly disguised autobiography.

The narrator frequently interrupts his story to complain about his present life (which mirrors that of Roth himself). At other times, Stigman holds imaginary conversations with his word processor, which he nicknames “Ecclesias.” Roth incorporates these interchanges to illustrate his loneliness, unhappiness, physical pains, mental confusion, sense of hopelessness, compulsion to confess his sins, and fears that he will be unable to muster the fortitude to finish his monumental writing project, a combination of fiction and bitter truth.

A Star Shines over Mt. Morris Park follows young Ira through the years of World War I to the beginnings of the 1920’s. By age fourteen, Ira has become self-reliant and street-smart as a result of his exposure to the tough, crowded Lower East Side. Meanwhile, the octogenarian Ira is carrying on a struggle with illness, writer’s block, and guilty conscience, continually intruding to complain and deliberately breaking the illusion he is trying to create.

A Diving Rock on the Hudson follows adolescent Ira from 1921 through 1925. He daydreams his way through high school (which his father...

(The entire section is 657 words.)