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Promiscuous: "Portnoy's Complaint" and Our Doomed Pursuit of Happiness Hardcover – April 19, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


“Avishai draws on existing scholarship to recount the ‘wild blue shocker’ that made Portnoy’s Complaint the talk of its time, but from Roth’s notebooks and Roth’s friendship he adds insight to what keeps Portnoy outselling Gatsby and Godfather to this day.”— Alan Cooper, Jewish Book World
(Alan Cooper Jewish Book World)

“An engaging and erudite reexamination of Portnoy’s Complaint. . . . This fine and flawed novel does, indeed, merit another look even though and maybe because, as Avishai reminds us, what seemed daring to a twenty-something in 1969 may well seem touching when he is 60.”— Glenn C. Altschuler, Jerusalem Post
(Glenn C. Altschuler Jerusalem Post)

"Great poets require great audiences: Whitman's dictum is brought to life in this book, where a truly great writer is matched to a highly astute reader. Philip Roth's transcendent importance is well established, but never has it been more cogently appreciated than by Bernard Avishai, who makes Roth's early masterpiece come fully to life again. Through Avishai's eyes, Roth's genius shines. Required reading all around."—James Carroll, author of Jerusalem, Jerusalem
(James Carroll)

“An affectionate, attentive, rumbustious meditation on Roth's Portnoy's Complaint, which also provides a robust, opinionated history of twentieth-century American Jewishness, sexual politics, literary criticism, psychoanalysis, skepticism and joking.”—Hermione Lee, President, Wolfson College, Oxford University, Author of Virginia Woolf and Edith Wharton (Hermione Lee)

“Bernard Avishai has written a spirited, loving, richly insightful appreciation of Portnoy's Complaint as cultural phenomenon, generational totem, instinctual liberation, and, above all, stupendous work of art. A marvelous book for anyone who wishes to relive and to understand the thrill, scandal and triumph of Roth's comic masterpiece.”—Stephen Greenblatt, author of The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
(Stephen Greenblatt)

"There are only two people who could have written this book: Philip Roth and Bernard Avishai. In fact, Avishai's deep emersion into the literary and cultural phenomenon that is Portnoy's Complaint is nearly as astute, bold, funny, perceptive, and wise as the celebrated novel itself."—Reza Aslan, Author of No god but God and Beyond Fundamentalism (Reza Aslan)

“I was there. I read Portnoy—eagerly, with both hands!—the week it came out. And let me tell you, Avishai nails it. He explains it, re-explains it, plumbs the depths and jokes and gives backstories I was too ignorant and giddy to notice. And not just that: Promiscuous kept the smile on my face from start to finish.”—Hendrik Hertzberg, Senior Editor, The New Yorker
(Hendrik Hertzberg)

“This is the best thing on Roth yet written. Avishai’s breezy, intimate style is propelled by considerable scholarship, not only locating this breakout novel in Roth’s life and work, but building a launching pad for Avishai’s own dazzling cultural, intellectual, religious, and psychoanalytical explorations. Promiscuous proves Roth to be our boldest, best, and brightest fiction writer. So now perhaps the Nobel Prize Committee may begin. Yes?”—Robert Brustein, Founder, American Reporatory Theater
(Robert Brustein)

“The brilliance and wit of Philip Roth’s novel, Portnoy’s Complaint, a book that transformed modern Jewish identity, are matched by the dazzling insights of Bernard Avishai, one of the most engaged, and smartest, Jewish writers around.”—Susannah Heschel, Eli Black Professor of Jewish Studies, Dartmouth College, author of The Aryan Jesus
(Susannah Heschel)

"A spirited engagement with the 1969 breakthrough novel that brought Philip Roth both renown and notoriety. . . . Avishai ventures far and wide over literary, philosophical and other cultural touchstones, providing a context for Roth's novel that encompasses James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Jackson Pollock, and Judd Apatow. Avishai proves both an informed and engaging guide to the novel and its legacy."—Kirkus Reviews
(Kirkus Reviews)

“How can one make a text so notorious, so unrelentingly charged, even more unique than it already is? It is to Avishai’s great credit that, in many respects, he lives up to this task, not least because his prose teems with unbounded passion. He offers keen insight into a novel that one would think has exhausted further possible excavation from critics and readers alike.”—Sam Kerbel, Tablet
(Sam Kerbel Tablet)

“Avishai draws on existing scholarship to recount the “wild blue shocker” that made Portnoy’s Complaint the talk of its time, but from Roth’s notebooks and Roth’s friendship he adds insight to what keeps Portnoy outselling Gatsby and Godfather to this day.”— Alan Cooper, Jewish Book World
(Alan Cooper Jewish World)

“Avishai examines Roth’s masterpiece, including the reaction at the time of publication and over the succeeding 40 years, drawing on interviews with Roth as well as the novelist’s writing and teaching notes, and interviews with writers, friends and the therapist who inspired the character of the psychoanalyst Dr. Spielvogel.”— Toronto Globe and Mail
(Toronto Globe and Mail)

“A very serious and very funny book about a very serious and very funny book.”— Jerome Chanes, The Forward
(Jerome Chanes The Forward)

“Avishai (whose intellect and wit well serve his friend Roth) is a perceptive literary and historic guide to the Portnoy phenomenon and the passionate response the novel engendered. . . . Erudite yet playful. . . . Highly recommended.”— Choice

“[A] hectic but always informative tour . . . [that] resonantly illustrates what Portnoy—indeed, what Roth’s entire oeuvre—represents both aesthetically and ethically: the necessity of heeding and cultivating the ‘voice that can’t mock others without mocking itself.’”
—James D. Bloom, Philip Roth Studies
(James D. Bloom Phillip Roth Studies 2013-03-28)

About the Author

Bernard Avishai is adjunct professor of business at Hebrew University and author of three books, most recently, The Hebrew Republic, and dozens of articles for The New Yorker, New York Review of Books, Harper’s, Harvard Business Review, and other publications. He divides his time between Jerusalem and Wilmot, NH.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; 1st edition (April 19, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030015190X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300151909
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.8 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,677,862 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Anonymous on July 6, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Bernard Avishai, in addition to being a brilliantly compelling writer, has an intellect that looks at a landscape and has the vision to see the genus of every tree as well as the forest as a whole. Avishai, through discussions with Roth himself, his admirers, his critics, and interpreting reviews and articles (ranging from thrillingly groundbreaking to painfully scathing) has written a comprehensive analysis of Roth's most controversial work. He plumbs the depths of Jewish faith, family dynamics, sexual identity, psychoanalysis, global politics and humor, all of which made "Portnoy's Complaint" such a body blow when published and so lasting in the minds of its readers ever since. Any student of literature, or for that matter any person who enjoys simply being intellectually engaged across multiple themes, will appreciate this book's propositions. Avishai's capacious intellect and writing prowess make this a great read and one that deserves attention.
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Promiscuous: "Portnoy's Complaint" and Our Doomed Pursuit of Happiness
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