I need a shower.
No, really, I need a shower. I know that I started off my review of Dog Soldiers with the same phrase. But that was a joke. A ha-ha funny, lame joke.
But when I finished Portnoy’s Complaint, I literally needed a shower. My skin felt like it was covered in yuckiness, nastiness just from exposing my cranial tissue (is that something?) to that novel.
What’s so sad about this is how much I loved my first experience with Philip Roth’s writing: American Pastoral was outstanding. But Portnoy’s Complaint, despite Roth’s engaging and funny writing style, was just too much.
As I mentioned in my post, How Many C Words Is Too Many C Words?, reading this novel seems similar to what reading the transcript of a porn movie might be like. A literary, highly-acclaimed porn movie, but a porn movie nonetheless.
Let me tell you a little about Portnoy’s Complaint.
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:
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:
Love Philip Roth. Loved American Pastoral.
Portnoy’s Complaint? I have no idea.
The only thing I’m sure of is that this book has been called controversial. And explicit. And lewd. Here’s how the Wikipedia literary experts describe it:
“Portnoy’s Complaint (1969) is the American novel that turned its author Philip Roth into a major celebrity, sparking a storm of controversy over its explicit and candid treatment of sexuality.”
Oh, wonderful. One of those novels.
Like I said, I really loved American Pastoral, so I’ll be interested to see how this one differs, as it was Roth’s big breakthrough novel.
Sexuality aside, the setup is unique: It’s a continuous monologue from the protagonist, Alex Portnoy, as he meets with his therapist.
Here’s a few quick facts about Portnoy’s Complaint and Philip Roth:
Hooray for good books being made into movies!
American Pastoral, an outstanding novel by Philip Roth, currently sits at #8 of the first 47 books I’ve read from the list (Read my review).I thought this novel was outstanding, and I even remember writing at some point that it was the perfect story for a movie.
Well, Hollywood agreed, as American Pastoral is slated to hit the screen in Fall of 2013. I think the novel has a perfect setup for a great film. It’s the fifth novel or short story Roth has written that has been turned into a film: The Human Stain, Portnoy’s Complaint, Goodbye Columbus, and The Dying Animal (Elegy). Oh, and by the way, Roth is a really smart guy.
I use Wikipedia a lot. It’s one of my main sources of information while researching information related to each of the books I read.
But I always take an extra step. If Wikipedia doesn’t have a source, if it doesn’t link out to some other respectable site that provides the same information, then I won’t use it in that case.
So there are definitely dangers in trusting Wikipedia, and here’s a great example why:
Recently, Philip Roth (read my review of American Pastoral) wrote “An Open Letter To Wikipedia” in which he spelled out his experience trying to change a piece of faulty information in an entry about his novel, The Human Stain.
Have you ever been to a party, a wedding reception, a family reunion, and the moment in which you open the door, you feel it—that nagging sense of “Oh no. I have to put on my happy, smiley face now.”
The fakeness settles in. You smile, chat, blow smoke about the weather and baseball, but the whole time you’re thinking…I don’t really like you. I don’t really want to talk you. Your breath smells like lite beer.
Ever been there?