Monitor: Venomous and vengeful, or candid? Philip Roth's new novel as seen by the world's newspapers

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WITH Communist the challenge to match fiction and reality was whetted by the publisher of Leaving a Doll's House, the scathing memoir by actress Claire Bloom, Roth's former wife. The publisher sent out copies of the book, urging reviewers of Roth's latest novel to read Bloom's critical account of their life together. Just as Bloom's book was hardly complimentary about her former husband, so Roth's features an actress, Eve Frame, who writes an expose about her former husband, Iron Rinn, ne Ira Ringold. Still, as intriguing as the real-life parallels may be, Roth is too good of a writer to have his work dismissed as mere revenge or literary venom. Did Roth write to get back at his ex-wife? The question naturally arises, but the answer isn't so easy to come by, and in the end it doesn't really matter much.

- St. Louis Post-Dispatch

YOU like facts? Some similarities between Frame and Bloom. Frame is a Jewish actress, so is Bloom. Frame's second husband is a financier, so was Bloom's. Frame's daughter is a harpist, Bloom's girl is an opera singer. Ira tells the daughter to move out, Roth did the same. Ira has an affair with the daughter's best friend; Roth, Bloom alleged, came on to her own daughter's best friend. And so on, while the taste in one's mouth gets worse and worse. This is an angry, bitter, resentfulness by a man who might have taken another course; kept his mouth shut. Pleaded the Fifth. Bloom's book didn't diminish him; he's done it to himself.

- Linda Grant, Guardian

COMMUNIST's view of the world remains hogtied to a narrow, personal agenda; its narrative drama, diluted by a willfully oblique narrative that frames one story within another and submerges one voice within another. The result: a wildly uneven novel that feels both unfinished and overstuffed, a novel that veers unsteadily between sincerity and slapstick, heartfelt melancholy and cavalier manipulation. As in Mr. Roth's 1993 novel, Operation Shylock, the characters in this novel talk and talk and talk; they rant and rave and riff as though, like Scheherazade's, their lives depend on their incessantly spinning the world into words. Some of the talk is dazzling, acute, funny and inventive, but even the brilliant talk becomes wearing in the end.

- New York Times

SENTIMENTALITY is Philip Roth's blackmailer; every year he comes looking for victory, and every year Roth has managed to repel him with the daylight of skepticism. Until now, alas. Sentimentality has again made its demands, and Roth has paid up in his latest novel, with lax charity. Communist does not satirize vulgar sentiment; it reveres it, rather as On the Waterfront does. This novel persistently sentimentalizes anger. Everyone is angry in the novel; the novel is a veritable one-party statelet of anger; it is scored for anger. Murray explains Ira's anger as one of America's gifts to the Jews. When Ira begins to crack, after the failure of his marriage and his blacklisting, and is committed to a mental hospital, his pain is sentimentalized by Murray (and by the novel) as merely a kind of softened anger: "You don't realize how much plain old misery can be backed up inside a titanically defiant person who's been taking on the world and battling his own nature his whole life."

- James Wood, New Republic

FOR Tolstoy, all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way. For Roth, all unhappiness begins in the family, every one unhappy; his abiding mission has been to expose the shameful secrets that poison domesticity. Tracing the origins of Zuckerman's literary credo, Roth also suggests the art to which his own novel aspires. Inspired by Ira's political passions, Nathan intends to put his pen at the service of revolution, until an instructor at the University of Chicago attacks his efforts "You must achieve mastery over your idealism," insists Nathan's college teacher. In the aftermath of Roth's own messy divorce from actress Claire Bloom, Communist is wise enough to eschew perfection. And it is very, very good.

Steven G. Kellman,

Atlanta Journal and Constitution