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The Breast Paperback – March 15, 1994
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"A new shock world of sensual possibility.... Need one say again that Roth is an admirable novelist who never steps twice into the same river?" —Anthony Burgess
"The Breast is terrific...inventive and sane and very funny. The trick which is the heart of the book is brilliant...and rich with meaning." —John Gardner, The New York TImes Book Review
"Hilarious, serious, visionary, logical, sexual-philosophical; the ending amazes—the joke takes three steps beyond savagery and satire and turns into a sublimeness of pity. One knows when one is reading something that will permanently enter the culture." —Cynthia Ozick
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Top Customer Reviews
This book is designed to be somewhat of a parody of "Metamorphisis", yet it takes Kafka's story from a different angle. While Kafka's story focuses on a general theme of isolation and loneliness, Roth further develops his recurring character Robert Kepesh's sense of sexual frustration. Along the way, Kepesh struggles with whether he really is a breast while being visited by Claire, his father, and a less than sympathetic colleague. With these visits, he tries to accomodate his new status with continuing a normal life. Yet we never seem to grasp the motive or reason for Kepesh's change.
"The Breast" is certainly a strange work in the scope of Philip Roth's writing. Many who enjoy his other works may be repulsed by the image of this book. While it is certainly not a recognized as some of this other writings, I believe it is near the pinnacle of his list of works.
- opening sentence of "The Metamorphosis," by Franz Kafka Gregor had it easy compared to Professor David Kepesh, a college professor who wakes up one morning to find he has been transformed into a gigantic breast, in Philip Roth's aptly-titled "The Breast."
"It began oddly," Roth starts the 89-page book, and from the opening sentence readers are plunged into the new world of Kepesh.
Refreshingly enough, Roth refrains from turning "The Breast" into an extended pornographic joke. Instead, he spends his time exploring David's state of mind- how would you feel if you suddenly transformed into a giant mammary gland?- which makes for an interesting psychological drama.
First, David describes the experience of being a breast as though he does not quite believe it himself: Is it all a dream? How is he able to communicate with the others around him? Where'd his face go?
Later, David's mentality changes, first to a perverted interest in a female nurse who washes him, then utter paranoia that he is under constant surveillance while in his hospital room, and finally a blatant refusal to accept his condition and the belief that he has gone mad.
Things degenerate to the point where Kepesh believes he cannot hear his doctors' actual diagnoses; because of his "insanity" he only hears what he wants to hear.
Throughout all this, we see how David's wife, Claire, deals with her husband's new state, as well as the reactions from his father, his doctors and nurses, and his mentor, who collapses in giggles at the sight of David the Breast.
"The Breast" is one big fat Franz Kafka admiration camp, where all the questions about
"The Metamorphosis" apply. Is David really a breast? Or is he mentally insane? Is he really being watched?
But the Kafka homage doesn't end there. Kepesh mentions strained relations with his father. Gregor's daddy wasn't a picnic either. Kepesh also calls the two hairs growing from his nipple his "antennae."
At one point, David even comments that most of the characters' names begin with the letter "K".
To which his doctor, Dr. Klinger, replies, "The alphabet only has twenty-six letters. And there are four billion of us in need of initials for purposes of identification."
It's a smart book, one's that's certainly different from the usual literary offerings. It's certainly a concept film director Spike Jonze should contemplate following "Being John Malkovich" up with.
It's a wild, short ride of a tale and one worth taking just for the sheer spectacle of it all.
Anyway, as for the meat-and-bones of this review, this is a book that I have to recommend to all Phillip Roth fans and to anyone with an affinity for bizarre, off-center satire. If you don't like Roth, you probably won't care much for this book. As well, this is not a book to read if you're looking for an introduction to Phillip Roth. Though amusing, its certainly not anywhere near his best work.