Joanna Smith Rakoff has written for The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Los Angeles Times, Newsday, Vogue, O: The Oprah Magazine, and other publications. She holds a B.A. from Oberlin College; an M.A. from University College, London; and an M.F.A. from Columbia University. She lives in New York with her husband and son.
Turning thirty was never supposed to be like this. Ten years ago, Ben, Lindsey, Chuck, Alison, and Jack graduated from New York University and went out into the world, fresh-faced and full of dreams for the future. But now Ben's getting a divorce; Lindsey's unemployed; Alison and Chuck seem stuck in ruts of their own making; and Jack is getting more publicity for his cocaine addiction than his multimillion-dollar Hollywood successes.
Suddenly, turning thirty-- past the age their parents were when they were born, older than every current star athlete or pop music sensation-- seems to be both more meaningful and less than they'd imagined ten years ago.
Plan B, Jonathan Tropper's wonderful debut novel, is about more than friendship, love, celebrity, addiction, kidnapping, or even turning thirty-- it's a heartfelt comic riff on what it means to be an adult against your will, to be single when you thought you'd have a family, to discover you are not, in fact, immortal, and to learn that Star Wars is as good a life lesson today as it was when you were six years old.
"It is like hearing that…J. D. Salinger is preparing a sequel to The Catcher in the Rye," the New York Times Book Review pronounced, while Vanity Fair extolled Roth's new work as "the literary comeback of the century." Even more astonishing was that Roth had not just written a second novel but a total of four chronologically linked works, all part of Mercy of a Rude Stream. Dying in 1995 at the age of eighty-nine, Roth would not live to see the final two volumes of this tetralogy published, yet the reappearance of Mercy of a Rude Stream, a fulfillment of Roth's wish that these installments appear as one complete volume, allows for a twenty-first-century public to reappraise this late-in-life masterpiece, just as Call it Sleep was rediscovered by a new generation in 1964.
As the story unfolds, we follow the turbulent odyssey of Ira, along with his extended Jewish family, friends, and lovers, from the outbreak of World War I through his fateful decision to move into the Greenwich Village apartment of his muse and older lover, the seductive but ultimately tragic NYU professor Edith Welles. Set in both the fractured world of Jewish Harlem and the bohemian maelstrom of the Village, Mercy of a Rude Stream echoes Nabokov in its portrayal of sexual deviance, and offers a harrowing and relentless family drama amid a grand panorama of New York City in the 1910s and Roaring 20s.
Yet in spite of a plot that is fraught with depictions of menace, violence, and intense self-loathing, Mercy of a Rude Stream also contains a cathartic, even redemptive, overlay as "provocative as anything in the chapters of St. Augustine" (Los Angeles Times), in which an elder Ira, haunted by the sins of his youth, communes with his computer, Ecclesias, as he recalls how his family's traditional piety became corrupted by the inexorable forces of modernity. As Ira finally decides to get "the hell out of Harlem," his Proustian act of recollection frees him from the ravages of old age, and suddenly he is in his prime again, the entire telling of Mercy his final pronouncement.
Mercy of a Rude Stream is that rare work of fiction that creates, through its style and narration, a new form of art. Indeed, the two juxtaposed voices—one of the "little boys swimming in a sea of glory," the other of one of those same boys "in old age being rudely swept to sea"—creates a counterpoint, jarring yet oddly harmonious, that makes this prophetic American work such an lasting statement on the frailties of memory and the essence of human consciousness.
Mercy of a Rude Stream: The Complete Novels includes A Star Shines Over Mt. Morris Park, A Diving Rock on the Hudson, From Bondage, and Requiem for Harlem.
He finds dangerous refuge with a group of biker-thieves, and then hides in the boarded-up summer house of a professor and his wife. He finally settles in an abandoned schoolbus with Rose, a child he rescues from a fast-talking pedophile. There Bone meets I-Man, an exiled Rastafarian, and together they begin a second adventure that takes the reader from Middle America to the ganja-growing mountains of Jamaica. It is an amazing journey of self-discovery through a world of magic, violence, betrayal and redemption.