Saturday, August 28, 2010

Candle #18: Portnoy's Complaint

Now done with Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth--another conquest for my Birth Year Reading Challenge. Just to start off...The best part of the book? The "Afterword to the Twenty-fifth-Anniversary Edition" by the author. Seriously. What I enjoyed most was learning that Roth has used a piece of paper emblazoned with 19 typewritten sentences that he found in a local diner back in 1956 to come up with the opening line for his first 19 novels. Being a budding author myself, I'm going to be on the look-out everywhere I go for a similar little bonanza--particularly if it's going to produce best-sellers.

But, I digress. Back to the review. This is the story of Alexander Portnoy and the outpourings of his therapy sessions with Dr. Spielvogel. Portnoy goes on and on (and on and on and...) about growing up Jewish and what the pressures of his home life have done to him. Squashed in between his ramblings about his sex life (both solitary and in company), we are given little vignettes about life with father and Mother and sister. Mother, of course, being the dominant figure in Portnoy's life.

This book earned two stars out of my five star system. There were moments (brief, fleeting) of down-right brilliant hilarity. There were moments (even briefer and more fleeting) of thoughtful insight. These are the redeeming qualities that push Portnoy's Complaint from one star to two. Over-all, this is a self-centered, whiny, piece of sexual OCD with a central character who is hung up on himself, his penis and where he's putting it, and his Jewishness (not necessarily in that order). If the humor were more liberally sprinkled throughout and/or the main character actually showed some growth over the almost 300 pages, then I would have given it a higher rating. As it is, despite Portnoy's sporadic psychological comments about himself (which seem to be right on target), he never takes these musings to heart and applies them. The reader is left feeling that Portnoy will never get beyond the furtive fumbling in the bathroom or the frantic wranglings in the bedroom.


Tammy said...

Good job on finishing another book on Your Birth Year Book Challenge!! I love reading your reviews! Have a great weekend!

Gilion at Rose City Reader said...

Wow! You are going to melt your cake with all these candles!

I wish I had enjoyed P.C. more than I did. Roth is a favorite of mine and P.C. was such a big deal. But it didn't do much for me.

I would like to read that Afterword, though. That sounds fascinating. My edition doesn't have it. The story about the opening sentences is incredible. I must find that list and match them to the books.

Bev Hankins said...

@Tammy: Thanks for the positive feedback on my reviews! You have a great weekend too!

@Rose City Reader: At least I'm not trying to put a candle on for my real age.....The Afterword is good. If you can find a library copy (that's where this one came from) that has it, it'd be worth a look.

J.G. said...

Roth seems to be an acquired taste, or maybe just one of those authors you either "get" or you don't. I slogged through the excesses of The Great American Novel (tough going, even though I love baseball) but thought Goodbye, Columbus was extraordinarily good. Small doses seems to be the answer for me.

The "list of first lines" is a fascinating fun fact, for sure!

Congrats on adding yet another candle!