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None of Roth's best novels are here, but they're all good,
This review is from: Philip Roth: Novels 1967-1972: When She Was Good / Portnoy's Complaint / Our Gang / The Breast (Library of America) (Hardcover)While none of the three novels and one novella in this collection are as good as Roth's debut, Goodbye, Columbus, or his masterpieces that would come later, such as The Counterlife, Operation Shylock and Sabbath's Theater, they are all good, and show a piece of the progression of one of our best livings writers.
When She Was Good: The first and best novel collected here, When She Was Good is somewhat of an anomaly among Roth's fiction, as the main character, Lucy Nelson, is not Jewish. The humor and pain in this book is also slightly different. Both the humor and the tragedy are less cruel than in Roth's later novels (not that I'm knocking on Roth's cruelty). This novel hits home, and there's something terribly sad about Lucy not being able to reform people the way she would like to.
Portnoy's Complaint: Possibly Roth's most famous novel, and maybe his funniest, but it certainly isn't the best. Alexander Portnoy is like one of Roth's later characters, Mickey Sabbath, in the sense that he is obsessed with sexual pleasure. The difference is the way in which it is obtained: while Mickey Sabbath is a seducer of women, Alexander Portnoy, the "protagonist" of Portnoy's Complaint, prefers to do the act himself. So much so that, in one scene, Alex, while with a woman, has to start thinking about himself in order to get off. If that makes you uncomfortable, this book is not for you, nor is Roth in general, because that's mild by comparison to most of the book. While this novel is hilarious, I got tired of it after a while, and I wish it had elaborated on Portnoy's relationship with his mother.
Our Gang: Considering the plot (Nixon administration) of Our Gang, which did not interest me in the slightest, I actually quite enjoyed this novel. Roth's opinion on the administration is pretty direct, as you will see. Not essential Roth, but certainly worth reading.
The Breast: As you start reading this, you may be reminded of Kafka's Metamorphosis. Don't let it discourage you if you're afraid of the story being unoriginal, because it isn't. It's a great read.
All things considered, this isn't the first Roth you should read (you can't go wrong starting with Goodbye, Columbus, which is funny and touching). However, these are all worthy stories, and help illustrate why Roth is so renowned.
Philip Roth: Novels 1967-1972: When She Was Good / Portnoy's Complaint / Our Gang / The Breast (Library of America)(4 customer reviews)