Richard Stern is often referred to as a writer’s writer, much honored by his peers but relatively neglected by the critics and (with one or two exceptions) by the reading public. He was born Richard Gustave Stern on February 25, 1928, in New York City, the son of a dentist; both his parents were of German Jewish descent. A brilliant and precocious student, Stern entered the University of North Carolina at the age of sixteen; he graduated in 1947. He received an M.A. from Harvard University in 1949 and a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa in 1954. In 1955 he began teaching at the University of Chicago, where he would remain, with visiting stints at other universities. In 1950 Stern and Gay Clark were married; they had four children. The marriage ended in divorce; in 1985 Stern married the poet Alane Rollings.
With Golk, Stern made a strong debut as a novelist. Centering on a fictitious television program based on the then-popular Candid Camera, the 1960 work came at a time when television, though already all-pervasive in American life, had received little serious attention. The program, called You’re On Camera, catches people unawares, exposing them to the laughter of viewers all over the country. The novel’s protagonist, Herbert Hondorp, becomes involved in the program, but when he himself is trapped in embarrassing behavior, he decides to betray his employer. Involved in the plot is Hondorp’s marriage, in which fidelity and betrayal become equally entwined—as in the...
(The entire section is 624 words.)