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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Jewish son's manifesto, April 18, 2001
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This review is from: Portnoy's Complaint (Paperback)
33-year-old Alexander Portnoy is the voice of an archetype previously underrepresented in literature -- the Jewish son. The novel, his "complaint," is written in the form of an address to his psychiatrist, Dr. Spielvogel. Portnoy is trying desperately to understand how his relationship with his parents has influenced his dysfunctional relationships with women.
Portnoy's parents have always been worried about him in ways that seem ridiculous to him. His mother tells him never to eat lobster because it might make him sick like it once did to her. When he feigns diarrhea so he can lock himself in the bathroom to masturbate, his mother chides him for purposely sabotaging his digestion by eating french fries after school. (A large portion of this book is devoted to hilarious tales of his uncontrollable onanistic urges and discharges -- into the toilet bowl, onto the light bulbs, onto the medicine chest mirror, on the bus, into the liver his mother is going to cook for dinner, once even accidentally into his own eye.) When he goes to college, they make him promise them he won't ride in a convertible. When he plans to go on a month-long vacation to Europe, his aged father lays a guilt trip on him about what he would do if he came home to find his father dead.
It isn't good enough for Portnoy's parents that their son has become a prominent lawyer and civil libertarian; they want him to get married and have children. Rebelling against his parents, he starts a string of sexually adventurous but loveless affairs with shikses (non-Jewish girls) whom he gives unflattering pet names. In college, there was "The Pumpkin," a bright, wholesome, conscientious girl; then there was "The Pilgrim," a WASPy debutante; and most recently, there was "The Monkey," a beautiful ex-model but a practically illiterate hayseed. Visiting Israel after abandoning The Monkey on vacation in Greece, his sexual problems come full circle when he meets a Jewish girl who reminds him of his mother.
This book is not for everybody. It is often very funny, but some may feel its tone is too paranoid, bitter, cynical, and confused. The narration frequently degenerates into empty invective (a lot of personal self-loathing, Jewish self-loathing, mocking of Catholic and WASP stereotypes), but at least it doesn't euphemize or sugarcoat its delivery. For better or worse, "Portnoy's Complaint" is as honest and accurate a piece of Twentieth Century American Jewish folklore as there is.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 4, 2008 3:44:21 PM PST
Ever since I read Portnoy's Complaint in the '70's, I haven't been able to look a light bulb in the eye.
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