Sunday, December 30, 2012

Book Review: Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth

from here
I don't remember when I acquired my water damaged first edition of Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint. Just like I don't remember what made this the year of Philip Roth for me: first The Humbling, then Goodbye, Columbus. Both things just sort of happened (as Joe Poz recently pointed out, Roth books have a way of reproducing while you sleep).

The thing about memory is this: it shapes us, even if we don't understand how. And that's Portnoy's Complaint: down memory lane we stroll, privileged to (and trapped by) Portnoy's novel length monologue to his shrink.

Laugh out loud funny, I wouldn't say it's Roth at his best, but I can see how it kicked up a lifetime worth of controversy.

How much do you think about sex? Spend a day thinking about it, tracking the thoughts that flicker through your mind about the people you see or remember or imagine.

Portnoy's monologue is stand-up comedian gold, an X-rated version of Bill Cosby's Fat Albert. Lessons are learned: hide your desires from the world, from the hypocrites who inhabit it, become a hypocrite and rule it.

I was surprised how much I enjoyed Portnoy's Complaint. I'm hardly squeamish, but I don't necessarily enjoy most sex-humor. I certainly didn't love the bits of Lost Girls that I've read despite the enticing review Neil Gaiman gives it, and most sex scenes in movies make me laugh (I'm thinking of you, Watchmen with the full Leonard Cohen Hallelujah as background music). Maybe there's something in the difference between reading and seeing that let's the humor last longer.

Book 48 of my book-a-week challenge.

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