Henry Roth had one of the most anomalous careers in modern letters: a brilliant novel at age twenty-eight, the incomparableCall It Sleep, lost for thirty years but never quite forgotten, then a torrent of words let loose in his seventies and eighties. ... Roth continued to resist any single explanation for his catastrophic writer's block, but it became evident that it was the incest, and the self-loathing that accompanied it, that threw the biggest roadblock across his path. Roth died Oct. 13, 1995, having written his epic in great pain from rheumatoid arthritis, often unable to bear touching his keyboard. When I interviewed him the year before, his twisted fingers were so inflamed that he could barely hold a pen to inscribe a book. The conditions of its composition, as well as the unflinching treatment of its subject, makeMercy of a Rude Streamone of the strangest and most disquieting performances in American letters.