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Next Up: Portnoy’s Complaint

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:

  • Published in 1969, Portnoy’s Complaint is 52nd on the Modern Library’s list of 100 best English Speaking 20th Century novels, in addition to being on the Time list.
  • The book’s protagonist, Alexander Portnoy, shares the same birthyear (1933) and birthplace (Newark, New Jersey) as Philip Roth.
  • The book sparked controversy because of its explicit discussion of sexuality, (um, masturbation) and its irreverent portrait of Jews.
  • Portnoy’s Complaint has been banned, censored, and everything else under the sun, depending on where you live.
  • In 1972, the novel was made into a movie with Richard Benjamin and Karen Black.
  • Roth, who recently turned 80, has won The Pulitzer (American Pastoral), the PEN/Faulkner (Operation Shylock, The Human Stain, and Everyman), and the Man Booker International Prize for lifetime achievement in fiction. In other words, Roth is a legend.

I’m not sure how I’m going to write about this book without making the Google search terms that come to my blog become more and more pornish.

I guess that’ll make good content for Your Search Questions Answered, but it might be a little creepy.

Wish me luck with that.

Any thoughts on Portnoy’s Complaint?

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12 Comments Post a comment
  1. I am impressed that you are doing your utmost to avoid the inevitable jargon that will only attract purveyors of porn to your blog.

    Like

    May 8, 2013
    • It will definitely be an ongoing challenge.

      Like

      May 8, 2013
  2. Nice intro to a difficult book to get through. Check out my review here : http://thetruthshouldbefree.wordpress.com/2013/01/30/reading-portnoys-complaint-at-a-jewish-community-center/

    Like

    May 8, 2013
  3. Read this a couple years ago. It’s very good. Overall, my feelings on Roth are somewhat mixed. But Portnoy’s Complaint has a manic energy which makes it hard to put down. I’m interesting in seeing what you make of it.

    Like

    May 8, 2013
  4. sally1137 #

    It will be interesting to see how 1969 era porn-controversy compares with, say, “Running with Scissors” by Augusten Burroughs, or, indeed, current romance novels.

    Like

    May 8, 2013
  5. I love my Mother’s observation on Roth after this book came out–“how could you shake hands with him?”

    Like

    May 8, 2013
    • LOL!!! Your mother sounds awesome. My mother (with a depression era/Midwestern farm girl sensibility) would have just called the book trash, as she did with a Kurt Vonnegut book I was reading in the early 70s.

      Like

      May 8, 2013
      • She definitely had her moments as I have written about.

        Like

        May 8, 2013
      • Yes well my mom was a depression girl who scraped the eggshell and saved slivers of soap from anthracite country.

        Like

        May 8, 2013
    • That’s hilarious. Great line.

      Like

      May 8, 2013
  6. Maybe you could develop your own code language to refer to key body parts and actions. :o))

    Like

    May 8, 2013

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