The novel “What Philip Roth Never Told You, The (True) Story of a Newark Girl,” written by Dr. Jane Statlander, is a courageous look at her own life, filled with loss, disappointments, and joy. She tells the story of a girl growing up in Newark, her difficult marriage and the blessing of her four children, Stefan, the twins Daniel and Joshua, and youngest daughter Rachael.
Readers will be drawn into the descriptions of Jersey City and Newark, which depict the small emerging cities of New Jersey as melting pots of immigrants striving to honor their culture and heritage while embracing the new.
Dr. Jane Statlander is a highly educated and well-traveled woman that received her PhD in American Literature and Culture at the University of New England in Australia.
In addition to her latest book, she has also published short stories, poems, and literary criticism.
Her play “Family Affair” was first performed in Israel, and her thesis “Cultural Dialectic” was published in 2002. “What Philip Roth Never Told You, The (True) Story of a Newark Girl,” took the author four years to write. It was published this September by Llumina Press and is categorized as a “bio-fictional novel” because it can’t easily be put into just one genre.
According to Statlander, it had to be categorized that way because there are elements in it that don’t conform to just one structure.
“Everybody loves to say to writers,” said Statlander, “Why did you write that? You take from your own experience but things are transformed.”
“Art is art. People should take it for that and stop asking questions,” she added.
A Newark girl
Newark and the surrounding towns are described in such a way that they are very real characters in the novel, at a time when neighborhoods were communities and supported each other.
According to Statlander, although she doesn’t live in Newark anymore, part of her will always belong. “You can take the girl out of Newark,” said Statlander, “but you can’t take Newark out of the girl.”
The book has passages about Philip Roth, with whom the author shares a love of writing and a Jewish faith. A line from the book says, “I think Philip Roth is ingenious. A genius I’m not sure he is. We’re from the same place – Newark. We walk the Walk and talk the Talk, concentrically.”
Statlander said that even now when she meets someone she can tell if they are from Newark.
In addition to describing Newark, the novel also describes the experience of her Jewish faith as the daughter of Holocaust survivors.
According to Statlander, she hopes that she was able to convey a true portrait.
“I hope that I’ve put across to the readers the essence of a Jewish person,” said Statlander, “the complexity of being Jewish in a world that isn’t Jewish. “Jewish – is really everyman. It is the most exquisite soul.” “Anybody of any faith, any background can put themselves into it,” she added.
The book is a magnificent discovery, it has varied elements like poems, letters, and diary entries mixed in with the prose that make one feel that they have stumbled onto a treasure trove of a life. It opens with a list of the cast of characters in the story that remind one of the character descriptions in plays. The time line is blurry jumping back and forth effortlessly between her childhood and adult life, but the result creates a world that is both carefully observed and beautifully felt.
Like all good stories it echoes the way the best stories can trigger memories in the listener that may not follow rational thought patterns but touches on deeper truths none the less.
Any fan of Philip Roth’s fiction will appreciate this story that is similar to his, yet is female.
Some of the descriptions are so vividly described that one feels they are in her world, watching as the action unfolds – the births of her children, the feel of a slap, the softness of a kiss, the heartbreak of disease and death. It is an interesting and important book, one which readers will find new layers of meaning at each re-reading.
“What Philip Roth Never Told You, The (True) Story of a Newark Girl” by Dr. Jane Statlander is available at: www.llumina.com.