For its first 50 pages, I often flipped back and forth from the synopsis of this book to the cover, then back to my current chapter. The need for a reminder was that pressing: yes, Marco Roth’s The Scientists: A Family Romance is indeed nonfiction, and it is a memoir, and this was author Roth’s childhood fairly recently, too. An early-90s shake-up of the Glass Family’s New York City, an only-child Tenenbaum recount, The Scientists presents an impressive retrospective on the death of Roth’s father, a victim of full-blown AIDS in the peak years of same, and every familial splintering that follows it – not least of all the quiet revelations that this father figure actually had plenty to hide, or plenty left for his surviving family to reassess.
It’s a strong debut from what is obviously a trained and critical mind (Much of the book takes place in Yale’s Comparative Literature department), but those analytical tendencies seem to border on the clinical – and permeate the book much more obviously – after the death of the father in the first third of the story. Thereafter, it seems like Roth’s trust in us as fellow critical thinkers waxes and wanes throughout, so when you aren’t being given a 15-page deconstruction of an obscure Russian novella, you’re being spoon-fed forced analogies between the Roths’ family life and the literary tradition. I suppose to FSG this meant The Scientists would appeal to a wider range of readers, an audience both cerebral and practical. But given that the swaths of literary theory are where Roth appears to be having the most fun, and connecting with his father at the deepest level, the remaining (and admittedly more readable) areas of the memoir seem injected solely for our benefit, and that gesture falls a little flat.