Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth

Jews and sex. Sex and Jews. Sexy Jews. Jewy Sex.

Thus can Philip Roth's book Portnoy's Complaint be described. In it, Alexander Portnoy, a successful thirty-something civil rights lawyer monologues to his shrink, Dr. Spielvogel, about the travails of his childhood and his many unsuccessful sexual affairs. Portnoy's problem (his "complaint") is that while he has a monstrous and somewhat deviant sexual appetite, his ethics will not let him engage in sexual diversion without much inner struggle. This is connected to his childhood and to his strict Jewish parents, who seem to be a lot like Fran Drescher's mom on The Nanny. When Portnoy isn't thinking about sex (at one point, he masturbates into a cored apple), he's thinking about Jews, and how as a self-described atheist he finds it difficult to relate to his family and surroundings, which are uber-Jewish.

This book is dark, funny, and extremely crude (it uses the word "cunt" more often than any book I have read, or any pornography I have seen), but for all that it's a little disappointing. Portnoy's monologue jumps around so considerably that it lacks any real narrative or forward structure, and it just doesn't have a lot of emotional heft. I have a feeling that this book may be enjoyed more by a Jewish person, but as a goy it left me sort of unimpressed. It certainly didn't leave me feeling that Roth is, as many have described him, the greatest living American author.

3 comments:

Carlton said...

Congratulations! You referrence The Nanny and masturbating into a cored apple in successive sentences.
I hate this cover. I usually avoid books where the author's name is the largest thing on the cover.

Christopher said...

Apparently some publishing company reprinted a bunch of his stuff with this exact same cover format, because most of his books I've seen look like that.

SugarSweetSunshine said...

ew- you watch pornography? (said katebabe)