When considering writing a memoir about his father’s death from AIDS in the 1980s — and the secretive atmosphere in his parent’s stylish Central Park West apartment — Marco Roth was deeply concerned that he “mustn’t write about any of this. That such an act was what my parents most dreaded.”
Many memoirists have felt this same hesitation and Roth’s memoir is — if not hesitant — carefully arbitrated. After all, there are secrets, and then there are family secrets, and Roth was well-groomed in keeping them.
Marco Roth’s memoir, The Scientists: A Family Romance (Farrar Straus & Giroux) begins with his childhood in the mid-1970s as part of the Free To Be…You and Me generation; he was raised in a Jewish family, the only child of a pianist mother and a well-read medical researcher father. The memoir ends near current day with Roth established into adulthood as co-founder of n + 1 magazine. Even though Roth structures the memoir to account for his travel, education and relationships, the memoir takes many interior paths, due to Roth’s intellectual and bibliographic excursions as he strives to understand his deceased father.
The foundation of the memoir is Roth’s relationship with his father, Eugene Roth, whose protracted demise from AIDS prompted an extended existential crisis — understandably so — in his only child. It was the ideal atmosphere for creating the writer that Roth chose to become rather than the life of a scientist that his father encouraged him to be.
Father and son related to one another through novels and scientific conversations. Even after Eugene Roth’s death, Marco tries to continue a conversation with his father by questioning what his father may have tried to reveal through novels and their characters. It becomes a one-sided conversation for the increasingly frustrated Roth who confronts his aunt, who wrote her own memoir about her brother, and his mother who is persistently reticent to give her son the truth about his father and how he might have been exposed to AIDS. Marco Roth relies on books when he doesn’t know how to feel–many a reader has had the same inclination.
Anyone who loves books for more than entertainment and knowledge will relate to the security books provide and the guidance and solace we seek in them as Roth does throughout his memoir. Roth’s high-level diction and literary references make his book inaccessible to a less academically-educated audience. However, for readers who grew up in houses full of books, looking for their most private fears and fantasy mirrored in novel, The Scientist: A Family Romance is a book they can have a conversation with, albeit uncomfortable a times, but ultimately a conversation about self-acceptance and compassion.
Hippocampus Rating: 4 out of 5 stars