We’ve talked about this before in terms of literature that glorifies a subject, but I want to touch on it again today.
When it comes to literature, I believe we all have a limit to how much obscenity we’ll put up with. Even the most liberal and “open-minded” of us have a limit, I believe. The issue being that we all define “obscenity” in different ways. It’s subjective.
I bring this up because, with Portnoy’s Complaint, I think I’m right at the edge, if not over, my limit. I definitely wouldn’t have finished this novel had it not been a part of the list.
But what exactly do I mean by “obscenities?”
I’m seriously having problems finding content to write about for Portnoy’s Complaint, due to all the graphic sexual content. But I couldn’t pass up this passage, which describes Alex Portnoy’s father’s issues with constipation.
It’s funny and a little crude. So if you don’t like potty humor, this is your fair warning for the remainder of this post.
Here’s the moving moment:
Let’s say your dad’s a famous novelist. Let’s say you’re taking a literature class and your professor asks you to write an essay on your dad’s novel—presumably, without knowing about your dad.
Do you ask your dad for help writing the essay?
Ian McEwan’s son did when he was given the assignment of writing an essay about his dad’s novel, Enduring Love.
The funny part? He got a C on the essay because the professor disagreed with his interpretation of the novel.
As Ian McEwan explains it:
My first experience with Philip Roth was American Pastoral. I loved the book.
Roth’s storytelling and writing style just blew me away.
Portnoy’s Complaint is a completely different style of novel, written a few decades before American Pastoral.
And it’s graphic. Really graphic. Almost all of it in a sexual nature. Shocking in some places. Roth’s narrator, Alexander Portnoy, uses variations of words I’m unsure I’ve ever heard before. It’s a little overdone, in my view, but I can see the forest through the trees and still appreciate Roth’s writing style.
If you can get past the lewdness, and there’s a lot of it, this can be a funny book. One particular scene from early on stands out to me.
Alex is Jewish, but has been turned off to the faith by his crazy mother, who is a devout Jew. She treats their Rabbi as if he’s the King of England, so when he shows up to see her at the hospital, Alex’s mom just about passes out from excitement. It’s a celebrity!
Alex explains his disgust: