The Scientists: A Family Romance

Marco Roth. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, $23 (196p) ISBN 978-0-374-21028-1
In this powerfully forlorn debut memoir, literary critic Roth mines the silence and shame he experienced growing up on Central Park West in the 1980s and ’90s as his scientist father died of AIDS. Never allowed to reveal to anyone at his elite Dalton School the truth of his father’s debilitating health, which the young only child was told had resulted from a freak needle accident with an infected patient in his father’s malaria research lab at Mount Sinai Hospital, the author tried to assume the normalcy enacted by his mother, a pianist and artists’ grants writer, yet the adolescent was haunted by his own sense of inadequacy and inability to save his father. Before he died in 1993, when the author was 19, the father, an old-school liberal Jewish New Yorker exquisitely educated in literature and the arts, had imparted some of his favorite books to his son, like Samuel Butler’s The Way of All Flesh and Goncharov’s Oblomov: these became clues to Roth’s own unhappiness and dissatisfaction while in college at Oberlin, then Columbia, and provided precious emotional links with his father. The publication of his aunt Anne Roiphe’s memoir 1185 Park Avenue, essentially outing her brother (Roth’s father) as a homosexual, floored the author, and he tried to get at the truth, both from his aunt and from his mother, which eluded him. Roth’s work is a ferocious literary exercise in rage, despair, and artistic self-invention. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 06/18/2012
Release date: 09/18/2012
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