1960 -- Goodbye Columbus

In The Facts, his memoir of the earlier years, Roth says that his first short stories demonstrated only how blind he was to the material that later made him famous. While he would happily regale his friends with his Jewish upbringing — stories “of somebody’s shady uncle the bookie and somebody’s sharpie son the street-corner bongo player and of the comics Stinky and Shorty…” — the idea of moving this world onto the page never occurred to him:

[T]he stories I wrote, set absolutely nowhere, were mournful little things about sensitive young men crushed by coarse life…. The Jew was nowhere to be seen; there were no Jews in the stories, no Newark, and not a sign of comedy—the last thing I wanted to do was to hand anybody a laugh in literature. …[I]t did not dawn on me that these anecdotes and observations might be made into literature, however fictionalized they’d already become in the telling. Thomas Wolfe’s exploitation of Asheville or Joyce’s of Dublin suggested nothing about focusing this urge to write on my own experience. How could Art be rooted in a parochial Jewish Newark neighborhood having nothing to do with the enigma of time and space or good and evil or appearance and reality?


The shekel soon dropped — too far for some, the stories in Goodbye Columbus, Roth’s first book, denounced by some of the first reviewers as a caricature of Jewish life, if not anti-Semitic.

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