The story goes that after writing the excellent novel, Call It Sleep, Henry Roth lost his muse and was unable to continue his literary career. It took from 1934 to 1979 to completely break through this monumental case of writer’s block. The book that Roth unleashed his revived literary vision on was called Mercy of a Rude Stream. Mercy was to be six volumes but was published as four volumes (the last two posthumously). The final two volumes were re-edited after the death of Roth and published as An American Type which continued the Ira Stigman saga begun in Mercy.
Mercy is an attempt to recapture and understand the astonishing creative energy of his youth. The title comes from Shakespeare’s Henry VIII:
I have ventured, Like little wanton boys that swim on bladders, This many summers in a sea of glory, But far beyond my depth. My high-blown pride At length broke under me, and now has left me, Weary and old with service, to the mercy Of a rude stream that must for ever hide me.