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Character Description At Its Finest

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:

If he emptied her bedpan, if he fed her meals, that might be the beginning of something, but to come for half an hour an sit beside a bed? What else has he got to do, Mother? To him, uttering beautiful banalities to people scared out of their wits–that to him is what playing baseball is to me! He loves it! And who wouldn’t? Mother, Rabbi Warshaw is a fat, pompous, impatient fraud, with an absolutely grotesque superiority complex, a character out of Dickens is what he is, someone who if you stood next to him on the bus and didn’t know he was so revered, you would say, “That man stinks to high heaven of cigarettes,” and that is all you would say. This is a man who somewhere along the line got the idea that the basic unit of meaning in the English language is the syllable. So no word he pronounces has less than three of them, not even God. You should hear the song and dance he makes out of Israel. For him it’s as long as refrigerator!

Now that’s a character description.

And it’s also one of the few long passages I can pull from Portnoy’s Complaint without giving my blog an X rating. This book…I’ve never read anything so, for lack of a better word…vulgar.

But onward I continue. The sacrifices I make for 101 Books.

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Vulgar is the word. A vulgar coming of age novel. I read it first at the age of 21. My male friends LOVED it. In it’s own special way, it is funny. The passage about the liver is absolutely over the top. But the book is so crude. I question its being on the list. How about you?


    May 15, 2013
    • Yes, I do. I understand why American Pastoral was there, but I’m not sure I get this one.


      May 15, 2013
      • Maybe for its groundbreaking mainstream crudeness? :o)


        May 15, 2013
        • Perhaps. It certainly is groundbreaking in my exposure to crudeness for sure.


          May 15, 2013

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