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Bohemian Rhapsody

A backward look at the Manhattan hipster life.

Apr 18, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 30 • By ANN MARLOWE
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Speaking of which, there is no bohemian poverty in this tale. Roiphe and Richardson were living on Park Avenue when she was 27, in an apartment bought by her rich mother. When Richardson needed more money for drinking than Roiphe’s meager salary as a receptionist allowed, he pawned her jewelry or she borrowed from her mother. The folie à deux that constituted this marriage might have ended even sooner without Roiphe’s family money, which she wrote about in her second memoir, the excellent 1185 Park Avenue. Roiphe is unflinching about her limitations: “I want a better world. I just want someone else to create it. .  .  . I had the morals of a four year old. .  .  . The man was a snake charmer and I was a snake.” She rationalized her many affairs with married men in the desperate interval between Richardson’s departure and her second marriage. Because her husband was compulsively unfaithful, she was freed not only from her marriage vows but from her obligation to respect others’ vows:

If other women had my husband, I too could do as I pleased. .  .  . In other words I was unmoored, uncertain and violated the only religious precept I really believed: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

She attributes her bad behavior to not knowing “whether it was better to snatch what sex one could from passersby or to remain faithful to a love and miss the party.” She never attributes it to the sense of artistic entitlement that the male writers she knew used to excuse their lapses—though she believed in this justification, too.

Roiphe found happiness with husband number two, Dr. Herman Roiphe, a much steadier model, who was 43 to her 31 when they wed and stayed married to her until he died 38 years later. (She wrote a memoir about that, too.) In the end, though, what haunts this book are not the wild parties and furtive adulteries but the unconsoled screams of the very young Emily Carter, Roiphe’s daughter by Richardson, wailing as her beautiful mother walks out the door, often on a foolish mission: “How hard it must be to be this child, whose mother is about to put her, still in her pajamas, in the car and race to the bus stop for a last goodbye.” Roiphe was going to say farewell to a visiting lover, the late Doc Humes, possibly as alcoholic and mentally ill as Richardson, and today nearly as obscure.

Roiphe’s first daughter is referred to only as “the baby” or “the child.” At the end, Roiphe mentions Carter’s struggles with drugs, her HIV-positive status, and her having become a writer, but still without naming her. Of course, Carter, a fixture of the East Village literary scene, may have requested this anonymity. (The other daughters are Katie, who wrote this book’s forward, and Becky, both from their mother’s second marriage.) And maybe the best commentary on the harrowing marriage that produced her comes from a 1998 interview with Carter. She is reflecting on her years as a stripper, but her words apply to the repetitions of her parents’ union, and her father’s alcoholism, as well:

If I were ruler of this, our darkly gleaming universe .  .  . I’d make it a felony to change any human interaction into something reeking of power and degradation. I’d make it illegal to turn your life into an endless behavioral reply, like a skipping record, of something that happened to you as a child.

Ann Marlowe is a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute and blogs for World Affairs.

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