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In the 1990s Philip Roth won America's four major literary awards in succession: the National Book Critics Circle Award for Patrimony (1991), the PEN/Faulkner Award for Operation Shylock (1993), the National Book Award for Sabbath's Theater (1995), and the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for American Pastoral (1997). He won the Ambassador Book Award of the English-Speaking Union for I Married a Communist (1998); in the same year he received the National Medal of Arts at the White House. Previously he won the National Book Critics Circle Award for The Counterlife (1986) and the National Book Award for his first book, Goodbye, Columbus (1959). In 2000 he published The Human Stain, concluding a trilogy that depicts the ideological ethos of postwar America. For The Human Stain Roth received his second PEN/Faulkner Award as well as Britain's W. H. Smith Award for the Best Book of the Year. In 2001 he received the highest award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Gold Medal in Fiction, given every six years "for the entire work of the recipient." In 2005 The Plot Against America received the Society of American Historians Award for "the outstanding historical novel on an American theme for 2003--2004." In 2007 Roth received the PEN/Faulkner Award for Everyman.
After reading PORTNOY'S COMPLAINT, I find myself scrambling to recall whether I have ever read another American novel anywhere near as hysterically funny. Maybe Tom Robbins's SKINNY LEGS AND ALL is in the same ballpark (and I've yet to read CATCH-22) but Roth simply had my head spinning while I read this book. My jaw is still on the floor, in fact. Esoterically, this book is one long rant about the joys and (more heavily) the anguishes of growing up Jewish in America in the forties and fifties. It's 1966 and successful civil servant Alexander Portnoy is on the psychiatrist's couch trying to get out all his Oedipal, inferiority, and sexual fetish complexes. That infamous masturbation scene in the movie AMERICAN PIE? A direct descendent of Mrs. Portnoy's piece of liver! More deeply, if you can stand it, this book seriously examines the struggle of growing up with smothering parents: Alex's both put him on a pedestal and criticize everything he does. He's unmarried at thirty-three in part because of all the neuroses his parents have bestowed in him--so why doesn't he get married and have children already? Alex lets us know in pornographic detail why. Speaking of pornographic detail, Alex spends plenty of time on his ultimately doomed affairs with (mostly Protestant) women. Most of his anger at growing up Jewish in a Christian-dominated society he takes out on these "shikses"--variously called Pumpkin, the Pilgrim and the Monkey--this is not a politically correct book from the feminist perspective. It does, however, raise serious questions about what it means to be a human being, as opposed to just a hyphenated-American. PORTNOY'S COMPLAINT is brash, profane and wonderful.Read more ›
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Portnoy's Complaint is one of the most wildly inventive books I have ever read. The book, long considered a classic if for nothing more than its amazingly effective stream-of consciousness technique, is a Roth tour-de-force of macabre emotions, painful truth, and biting sarcasm. The story as such concerns a middle-aged Jewish man, Alex Portnoy ranting to his analyst about the struggles of growing up Jewish in a world populated by goyim. The book is framed as one big monologue in which Alex tells us about everything from his mother's fanatical devotion to the rules of eating kosher to his relationships with women. What's so striking about the book is the sheer strength of will on which it floats. The book plows ahead with its ugly, hilarious, painful, unbearable, engaging, sick narrator with nary a break in between. In attempting to find a cure for why Alex is so sex-obsessed, he at first seems to believe his mother's doting on him is the primary cause. Gradually, however, the reader (as well as Alex) becomes aware that Alex also suffers from a more subtle but affecting problem. The man is a classic text-book narcissist. He masturbates nearly every waking moment as a teenager not as a way of finding sexual gratification from the nature of his relationship with his mother, but because he is so self-absorbed that the act itself is a form of lust (for the self). This haunting narcissism is ultimately what causes him to never be able to commit to a woman seriously, and why he scars The Monkey so terribly (and memorably in a Rome hotel room), demeans the Italian hooker, and nearly rapes a woman in the Holy Land. He feels that by gaining control over these women, he will somehow become more potent himself. Thus, he gets his sexual gratification by inflicting pain on women.Read more ›
Definitely one of the best books I've ever read... a wonderful concoction of  intellect, humour and brilliant writing. A Jewish man sits on a psychiatrist's chair and rants...he raves and screams and howls and grumbles..... his name is Alexander Portnoy - a genius with a 158 IQ, but also a notorious sex fiend and a man obsessed with his religious background. So vividly and so viscerally does he express his mental anguish that the reader feels an adrenalin rush as they skim through the pages of the book .... I found myself whizzing through the novel and I wasn't bored for a second....anything but! I was amused, delighted, fascinated and yes, I wanted to quote just about every single sentence that came out of Portnoy's mouth....about his relationship with "The Monkey" (no, not a pet babboon, but actually the name he bestows upon one of his girlfriends...a woman on whom he exercises his more selfish and sadistic streak), about their relationship, he retorts "she puts the id back in Yid and I put the oy back in Goy"....a sentence that will hold a whole new load of meaning for those who read the book....its emphasis on the Jewish-Gentile conflict, as seen from Portnoy's obsessive-compulsive point of view, is profound. Here, I'm tempted to stress the fact that the book may appear to be nothing more than a tirade on Semitism, but actually, it is much more universal than that....it is an indictment of ALL forms of religious bigotry, as Portnoy has renounced his religion and labelled himself an atheist. It's merely a co-incidence that Portnoy happens to be Jewish. Had he hailed from a family of devout Buddhists or Christians, his wrath towards those religions would have been just as strong. There's definitely a deep-rooted atheist philosophy underlying the book....Read more ›
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