If you'd like a sense of the reviewing style of newly annointed LATBR editor David Ulin, you can check out today's Newsday, where he reviews the new Henry Roth biography.
The question all this raises is why a writer so overtly self-reflective should need a biography. What can a biographer tell us that Roth cannot? To his credit, Kellman addresses that dilemma from the outset: "What is left," he asks, "for biography to say about a man who wrote hundreds of articulate pages about himself?"
The answer, of course, is plenty - "Mercy of a Rude Stream" ends in 1927 - yet "Redemption" can't help but exist in the shadow of Roth's work. Although Kellman does a nice job of tracing the author's lost years, he never quite gets at the inner life, the psychological tumult of his subject's world. This is especially true when it comes to Roth's relationships with his wife, Muriel, whom he credited with saving him, and his sons Jeremy and Hugh, who grew increasingly distant as they got older. In many ways, this suggests the limitations of biography, which must imagine a life from the outside, rather than the other way around. At the same time, it also highlights Roth's ultimate achievement: to use literature as a means to reconstruct himself. That's a tricky process; for all the power of "Call It Sleep," "Mercy of a Rude Stream" is a more uneven effort, by turns brilliant and overwrought. Yet if "Redemption" has anything to tell us, it's that even this is something of a miracle, given what Roth had to overcome.