Roiphe, Anne 1935–
Roiphe, Anne 1935–
(Anne Richardson, Anne Richardson Roiphe)
Born December 25, 1935, in New York, NY; daughter of Eugene (a lawyer) and Blanche Roth; married Jack Richardson, 1958 (divorced, 1963); married Herman Roiphe (a psychoanalyst), January 20, 1967; children: Emily, Kate, Becky; stepchildren: Margaret, Jean. Education: Sarah Lawrence College, B.A., 1957.
Home—New York, NY.
National Book Award finalist, 1996, for Fruitful: A Real Mother in the Modern World.
(Under name Anne Richardson) Digging Out, McGraw (New York, NY), 1967.
Up the Sandbox!, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1970.
Long Division, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1972.
(Under name Anne Richardson) Torch Song, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1977.
Lovingkindness, Summit Books (New York, NY), 1987.
The Pursuit of Happiness, Summit Books (New York, NY), 1991.
If You Knew Me, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1993.
Secrets of the City, Shaye Areheart/Crown (New York, NY), 2003.
An Imperfect Lens, Shaye Areheart/Crown (New York, NY), 2006.
Generation without Memory: A Jewish Journey in Christian America (autobiographical essays), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1981.
(With husband, Herman Roiphe) Your Child's Mind: The Complete Book of Infant and Child Mental Health Care, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1985, published as Your Child's Mind: The Complete Book of Infant and Child Emotional Well-Being, 1986.
A Season for Healing: Reflections on the Holocaust, Summit Books (New York, NY), 1988.
Fruitful: A Real Mother in the Modern World, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1996.
1185 Park Avenue: A Memoir, Free Press (New York, NY), 1999.
For Rabbit, with Love and Squalor: An American Read, Free Press (New York, NY), 2000.
Married: A Fine Predicament, Basic Books (New York, NY), 2002.
Water from the Well: Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah, Morrow (New York, NY), 2006.
Also contributor to periodicals, including Redbook, Glamour, and Family Circle. Roiphe also writes a bi-weekly column in the New York Observer.
Anne Roiphe is a social commentator who is best known for her novel Up the Sandbox! Her works, which largely explore a woman's search for identity, also examine such topics as divorce, alienation, aging, marriage, and religious tradition. Publishers Weekly writer Sybil Steinberg judged the author's work to be of considerable significance. In Steinberg's opinion: "A sociologist seeking to understand some of the cultural and religious ferment of the last four decades of the twentieth century could do worse than read the … works of Anne Roiphe. With her thoughtful and often provocative appraisals of the zeitgeist, Roiphe has managed to offer impassioned insights into feminism, marriage, family and Jewish identity in books that draw on her personal life to explore larger social issues."
Roiphe's first book, Digging Out, presents the personal reflections of Laura Smith as she attends the bedside of her dying mother. Laura recalls the history of her large and rich Jewish family, interweaving its past with the details of her mother's illness. The story of Roiphe's next book, Up the Sandbox!, alternates the inner musings of Margaret Reynolds, as a young Manhattan mother who ministers to the needs of her two small children, and the Margaret Reynolds who envisions wild dream adventures, such as blowing up the George Washington Bridge with a group of black militants.
Lovingkindness explores the alienated relationship of secular Jewish feminist Annie Johnson, a widowed, financially successful writer, and her twenty-two-year-old daughter, Andrea, the rattlesnake-tattooed survivor of drug abuse and three abortions. When the girl finally phones her mother after five months of silence, she informs Annie she is in Jerusalem, having joined an ultra-Orthodox sect and changed her name to "Sarai" as a symbol of her newborn faith. Annie is concerned that her daughter is surrendering her free will for the rigidly defined dictates of a male-dominated, tightly structured religious system. Annie learns the Yeshiva has selected a husband for Sarai, a young American, Michael Rose, and she joins the intended spouse's parents when they travel to Israel in an attempt to halt the marriage by kidnapping their own son. Ultimately, Annie must decide whether to accept her daughter's decisions or to interfere.
Jane Blumberg, reviewing Lovingkindness in the Times Literary Supplement, described the work as "a beautifully constructed and restrained novel" and added: "If its presentation of a very specific Manhattan world of educated liberalism and disillusioned idealism is a bit rarified, not to say somewhat negligent of the new problems facing American Jews in regard to Israel, it is nonetheless powerful." However, Linsey Abrams, writing in the Los Angeles Times Book Review wrote: "The human information in this novel calls for a profound sadness that is nowhere apparent. An impoverishment of vision and feeling on the part of the narrator does not do justice, either, to her own predicament as a woman and mother." Abrams concluded: "That love is to be found neither among individuals nor even in a nuclear family but only in religious community is the reactionary, perhaps inadvertent, message of this novel, its real moral center."
In A Season for Healing: Reflections on the Holocaust, Roiphe develops the theme that the impact of the Holocaust affects all people, not just Jews, and that failing to acknowledge the wrongs suffered by other groups and imputing guilt for its tragedy upon Christianity only leads to the renewal of anti-Semitism. She concludes that humankind should seek unity, not further divisiveness and anger. In the New York Times Book Review, Berel Lang commented: "Roiphe considers here the Jewish response to the Holocaust in the post-Holocaust world and especially a disproportion she finds in that response. This disproportion, she claims, has seriously harmed relationships between Jews and a number of groups to whom they are linked by history or place…. It has also contributed to the rise of neoconservatism among American Jews, to the militaristic ethos of Israel and to the issue of dual loyalty which has been intensified for American Jews by events in Israel." Elaine Kendall, in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, asserted: "Appearing fifty years after Kristallnacht, Roiphe's book can be read as a reminder that humanity itself has become an endangered species."
The Pursuit of Happiness is an epic spanning five generations of the Gruenbaums, an immigrant Jewish family, who left Poland in 1880 to seek the American dream. The story begins in a Jerusalem hospital in 1990, where Hedy Gruenbaum Aloni awaits the outcome of her daughter Namah's head-wound surgery: the girl was shot during a conflict between Arabs and Jewish zealots. The narrative utilizes numerous flashbacks with a cast of dozens of family members, sharing their triumphs and losses in intimate detail.
There is an autobiographical tone to the work, noted Rita Kashner in her Washington Post Book World review: "The Gruenbaums are Roiphe's actual family of origin, with no attempt at veiling." In the New York Times Book Review, Amy Wallace commented: "We quickly grow fond of her sprawling family of sufferers and strivers," though she ultimately found fault with "the plethora of characters—by the end it becomes confusing." Other critics offered similarly mixed opinions. Kashner stated that "the book is full of life, humor and insight" though "there are lapses. Some characters fail to rise above caricature. Roiphe overuses the arch address to ‘Reader,’ and there's a superfluous series of replays near the end." Frances Stead Sellers, in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, described the novel as "a somber chronicle of immigration, assimilation and eventual disillusionment." However, Sellers also observed: "The novel's ending and narrator are curious flaws in an otherwise polished, compelling and farreaching story." Despite her reservations, Kashner declared: "The book is rich, sharp and touching—and full of stories, which are ultimately what one generation has to give another."
Roiphe's next novel, If You Knew Me, centers on Leah Rose, a lonely, middle-aged molecular biologist on sab- batical in a peaceful seaside town. Leah meets Ollie Masters, a high school English teacher who cares for his obese, mentally disabled sister, Sally. Despite their insecurities, Leah and Ollie slowly enter a relationship, which is complicated by Sally's presence. According to Library Journal contributor Francine Fialkoff, If You Knew Me, "is pervaded by sadness. The intricate prose and endless sentences add to the heaviness." A critic in Publishers Weekly offered a more positive assessment, stating that the author's "characterization of three difficult, needy people is subtle and intense."
Up the Sandbox! marked Roiphe as an early feminist. In Fruitful: A Real Mother in the Modern World, she looks back at the feminist movement of the late twentieth century and offers some criticism of its more radical element. As in some of her other books, she illustrates her points with vignettes of her own life. According to Emily MacFarquhar in the New York Times Book Review: "Her riff on motherhood is passionate, lyrical, witty, insightful, commonsensical and off the wall. It will evoke shudders of recognition from anyone who has cared for a child." MacFarquhar noted that Roiphe questions if the term "mother-feminist" is an oxymoron and concluded: "Fruitful is her sometimes maddening, always engaging answer."
Andrew Billen gave a somewhat more complicated analysis of Roiphe's thesis in his London Observer review. He explained that, in Roiphe's view, "motherhood ‘by definition’ requires a ‘sacrifice of self-wishes,’ whereas feminism ‘by definition insists on attention being paid to the self.’" Roiphe further suggests that by focusing on themselves, radical feminists have done serious damage to their children. Billen commented: "As a childless man, I suspect Roiphe has overestimated the damage feminist extremism has done to our psyches…. Yet the author is surely right when she says it is time for the astringent, corrective brand of feminist literature to be superseded by a pro-family domestic product that can be used by both sexes…. Fruitful is not only beautifully written; it is one of the most sensible things I have read for a while."
Roiphe published the autobiographical work, 1185 Park Avenue: A Memoir, in 1999. Roiphe, whose maternal grandfather founded the Van Heusen shirt company, grew up in a wealthy Jewish immigrant family in New York City in the 1940s and 1950s. Her neurotic, chain-smoking mother and philandering father often left Roiphe and her asthmatic younger brother, whom she greatly resented, in the care of a German governess. Roiphe would later enter a disastrous marriage herself; her brother, who led a tortured existence, died of AIDS. "With this sort of material, it would be easy to descend into sentimentality and self-pity; many writers have done so with far less," observed Karen Lehman in the New York Times Book Review. "Roiphe takes the opposite tack. Her writing is achingly quiet and matter-of-fact." Booklist critic Hazel Rochman stated that "Roiphe's acerbic, passionate sentences twist and turn and stop you short with their wit and painful insight," and a reviewer in Publishers Weekly noted that that author's "devastating memoir fully engages the reader in her painful story of hatred and betrayal." Lehrman concluded: "What becomes clear is that this sort of psychic malfeasance could happen in any family, in the most egalitarian society. By not trying to make many grand statements about the human experience, Roiphe ends up making a few rather eloquent statements about the human experience."
Roiphe turns to literary analysis in For Rabbit, with Love and Squalor: An American Read. In this personal journey through the works of fiction that she has enjoyed, Roiphe spotlights writers and their fictional creations from J.D. Salinger and his fictional creation Holden Caulfield, to John Updike's Rabbit. She also relates these characters to her own life and experiences. For Mary Paumier Jones, writing in Library Journal, Roiphe "has done nothing less than invent a lively and original form of literary criticism" with her book. Booklist contributor Donna Seaman also had praise for the book, noting that it "presents an electrifying paean to twentieth-century American literary heroes." And Diane Cole, writing in the New York Times Book Review, found the book a "chatty, informal memoir of one reader's lessons in literature."
With the 2002 work Married: A Fine Predicament, Roiphe "testifies to the rewards of the long-haul marriage," according to Noonie Minogue in the Times Literary Supplement. Just as she examined motherhood in Fruitful, she takes on social commentary relating to the idea of marriage in Married, blending "personal anecdotes with canny responses to trends, headlines, phobias," as Booklist reviewer Seaman commented. Roiphe examines cases of serial monogamy, the ups and downs of divorce, the trend toward the singles lifestyle, as well as the changing nature of marriage over the past half century to show, as Seaman noted, why, despite all the tough times in a marriage, "it's all worth it." A contributor for Publishers Weekly found the book "neither antiromantic nor hopelessly giddy." Nancy P. Shires, writing in Library Journal, called Married "thorough and readable," with Roiphe looking at both sides of the marriage debate. Lynda McDonnell, though, writing in Washington Monthly, felt that Married "is an incisive essay on marriage that seems padded to make a book," and Karen Dukess wrote in USA Today that Roiphe's book "is a rambling, probing and passionate defense of marriage." Writing in a similar critical vein, Jennifer Howard noted in the Washington Post Book World that Roiphe "prescribes marriage as the only cure for the loneliness that ails us even as she makes it sound like one bitter pill," and commented further that the book "suffers from a lack of focus." Yet for Martin Levin, writing in the Weekly Standard, this very hodgepodge of "gossip, grudges, small talk" is what made the book appealing. "I loved it," he wrote. "But one has to say, it comes a bit late in our cultural meltdown."
Roiphe's novel Secrets of the City, originally serialized in the Forward, a New York Jewish newspaper, concerns Mel Rosenberg, the embattled mayor of an East coast metropolis. After the ducks in the city's parks start dying in large numbers and several human fatalities follow, Rosenberg turns to his daughter, Ina, a biologist, for answers. Ina learns that the deaths have been caused by drug-laced pizza, stirring fears of a coordinated terrorist attack. Rosenberg then enlists the aid of Detective Loew, whose efforts are thwarted by Harlem's incendiary Reverend Benjy Crick, who insists that Jews are hoarding an antidote to the poison in local synagogues. The mayor must also deal with his son's obsession with social status, his daughter-in-law's penchant for shoplifting, and his parking commissioner's willingness to take bribes and engage in extramarital affairs. "Needless to say," wrote Laura Jamison in the New York Times Book Review, "there's more than enough intrigue here to snare a reader's attention—for a while, anyway. But once it becomes clear that each plotline will be resolved in short order, never to reappear (the duck killers won't deploy more deadly poison, the commissioner's crimes won't dovetail with another story), the need to turn the pages dissipates." Secrets of the City drew praise from other critics, however, including a reviewer in Publishers Weekly who stated: "Roiphe's headlong, jumpy prose satisfyingly evokes the frantic, hilarious struggle of living in and maintaining a city of millions of separate souls." In Library Journal, Maureen Neville observed that the author "sprinkles the narrative with elements of magical realism, giving the book an unexpected spiritual edge."
Set in Alexandria, Egypt, An Imperfect Lens presents a fictional account of the cholera epidemic that ravaged the city in 1883. In the work, a group of French researchers commissioned by Louis Pasteur search frantically to discover the source of the plague and manufacture a cure. According to a reviewer in Publishers Weekly, "Roiphe infuses her richly textured, propulsive story with a sense of doom brought by a microscopic enemy." "Part science whodunit, part romance, part travelogue, this tale makes magic of the most ghastly of subjects," remarked a Kirkus Reviews critic.
In Water from the Well: Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah, Roiphe draws from prayer books, religious texts, and folkore to offer her interpretations of four biblical matriarchs. "The result is a colorful, character-driven portrayal of the women, emphasizing their experiences with their husbands and their children," a Publishers Weekly critic noted. Writing in Booklist, June Sawyers commented that the author "brings all her literary art to bear on retelling this seminal lore with effortless grace."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Burstein, Janet Handler, Writing Mothers, Writing Daughters: Tracing the Maternal in Stories by American Jewish Women, University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 1996.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 3, 1975, Volume 9, 1978.
Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook: 1980, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1980.
Roiphe, Anne, 1185 Park Avenue: A Memoir, Free Press (New York, NY), 1999.
Belles Lettres: A Review of Books by Women, spring, 1994, Bettina Berch, review of If You Knew Me.
Booklist, July, 1993, Anne Gendler, review of If You Knew Me, p. 1945; June 1, 1999, Hazel Rochman, review of 1185 Park Avenue: A Memoir, p. 1773; November 1, 2000, Donna Seaman, review of For Rabbit, with Love and Squalor: An American Read, p. 512; May 1, 2002, Donna Seaman, review of Married: A Fine Predicament, p. 1490; January 1, 2006, Margaret Flanagan, review of An Imperfect Lens, p. 60; September 1, 2006, June Sawyers, review of Water from the Well: Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah, p. 26.
Cosmopolitan, June, 1981, Jane Clapperton, review of Generation without Memory: A Jewish Journey in Christian America, p. 24.
Entertainment Weekly, January 27, 2006, Jennifer Reese, review of An Imperfect Lens, p. 87.
Glamour, July, 1981, Nancy Evans, review of Generation without Memory, p. 122.
Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2003, review of Secrets of the City, p. 1151; December 15, 2005, review of An Imperfect Lens, p. 1297.
Library Journal, April 15, 1981, review of Generation without Memory, p. 895; June 1, 1985, Janice Arenofsky, review of Your Child's Mind: The Complete Book of Infant and Child Mental Health Care, p. 134; May 1, 1993, Francine Fialkoff, review of If You Knew Me, p. 117; May 15, 1999, Francine Fialkoff, review of 1185 Park Avenue, p. 104; October 15, 2000, Mary Paumier Jones, review of For Rabbit, with Love and Squalor, p. 71; April 1, 2002, Nancy P. Shires, review of Married, p. 128; November 15, 2003, Maureen Neville, review of Secrets of the City, p. 99; January 1, 2006, Leigh Anne Vrabel, review of An Imperfect Lens, p. 101; September 15, 2006, Sandra Collins, review of Water from the Well, p. 66.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, September 6, 1987, Linsey Abrams, review of Lovingkindness, p. 6; November 27, 1988, Elaine Kendall, review of A Season for Healing: Reflections on the Holocaust, p. 1; August 11, 1991, Frances Stead Sellers, review of The Pursuit of Happiness, p. 7.
Mademoiselle, October, 1981, Jane Howard, review of Generation without Memory, p. 52.
Melus, summer, 1996, Andrew Furman, "Anne Roiphe's Ambivalence: A Jewish Feminist Looks at Israel," p. 123.
New Yorker, April 26, 1999, review of 1185 Park Avenue, p. 191.
New York Times, May 22, 1981, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of Generation without Memory, p. 25.
New York Times Book Review, June 7, 1981, Eli N. Evans, review of Generation without Memory, p. 12; November 13, 1988, Berel Lang, review of A Season for Healing, p. 7; July 21, 1991, Amy Wallace, review of The Pursuit of Happiness, p. 9; October 13, 1996, Emily MacFarquhar, review of Fruitful: A Real Mother in the Modern World, p. 23; June 6, 1999, Karen Lehman, "Uptown Girl," review of 1185 Park Avenue; February 11, 2001, Diane Cole, review of For Rabbit, with Love and Squalor, p. 21; November 30, 2003, Laura Jamison, "Mayor Mel," review of Secrets of the City.
Observer (London, England), February 2, 1997, Andrew Billen, review of Fruitful, p. 17.
Publishers Weekly, March 13, 1981, Genevieve Stuttaford, review of Generation without Memory, p. 80; May 17, 1985, review of Your Child's Mind, p. 102; May 24, 1993, review of If You Knew Me, p. 66; August 2, 1993, Sybil Steinberg, "Anne Roiphe: Looking for Universal Truths in Personal Experiences Is This Writer's Goal," and review of If You Knew Me, pp. 57-58; May 10, 1999, review of 1185 Park Avenue, p. 45; April 15, 2002, review of Married, p. 50; October 20, 2003, review of Secrets of the City, p. 35; November 21, 2005, review of An Imperfect Lens, p. 27; August 14, 2006, review of Water from the Well, p. 202
Times Literary Supplement, May 6, 1988, Jane Blumberg, review of Lovingkindness, p. 500; September 5, 2003, Noonie Minogue, review of Married, p. 25.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), August 22, 1993, review of If You Knew Me, p. 4; December 7, 2003, review of Secrets of the City, p. 7.
USA Today, June 18, 2002, Karen Dukess, review of Married, p. D6.
Washington Monthly, July-August, 2002, Lynda McDonnell, review of Married, pp. 46-48.
Washington Post Book World, June 16, 1991, Rita Kashner, review of The Pursuit of Happiness, p. 1; May 19, 2002, Jennifer Howard, review of Married, p. 8; March 5, 2006, Donna Rifkind, "Love in the Time of Cholera in the Late 19th Century, Three Frenchmen Are Dispatched to Egypt to Track down a Killer Disease," p. 4.
Weekly Standard, June 10, 2002, Martin Levin, review of Married, p. 43.
Women's Review of Books, July, 1999, review of 1185 Park Avenue, p. 35.