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Philip Roth: Novels 1967-1972: When She Was Good / Portnoy's Complaint / Our Gang / The Breast (Library of America) Hardcover – August 18, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

In this, the second volume of The Library of America's definitive edition of the collected works of Philip Roth, published by special arrangement with the author, the range and inventiveness of Roth's fiction is dazzlingly displayed: the somber and penetrating realism of When She Was Good (1967); the daring verbal wit of his comic masterpiece Portnoy's Complaint (1969), which made Roth a reluctant literary celebrity; the unrestrained political satire of Our Gang (1971), his Swiftian takedown of the Nixon administration; and the fantasy of The Breast (1972), featuring the debut of Roth protagonist David Kepesh as he endures a metamorphosis worthy of Kafka or Gogol.

About the Author

Philip Roth, acclaimed author of Portnoy's Complaint, The Human Stain and many other works of fiction, is the recipient of numerous awards, including the National Medal of Arts from the White House.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Library of America; First Edition edition (August 18, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1931082804
  • ISBN-13: 978-1931082808
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.2 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #898,696 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
If I remember correctly, this book was trashed on the front page of the NY Times Book Review section forty years ago because the reviewer thought a young Jew should not or could not write about small town WASP America. I could not disagree more, both in principle and after reading the novel several years later. I was relieved to find the writer (a man!) would take the trouble to write about a young woman who had marched in her high school band and worked at the Dairy Queen. The book jacket described her as the all-American bitch but I doubt this was Roth's full intention. The ending was beautifully written and so believable it affected my own behavior. Some of the most memorable pages in Roth's prizewinning American Pastoral reminded me of When She Was Good, a book even Roth usually overlooks in talking about his work. Too bad the review may have had a searing effect for a long time.
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This volume of Roth novels from 1967 to 1972 opens with 'When She was Good'.
It is a realistic, but extreme story set mostly around 1950 in small town Midwest.
Lucy Nelson is an ambiguous heroine. We can sympathize with her problems, but she doesn't make it easy on us. She is contrarian and unreasonable. She is angry, which is understandable in her situation as a teenage mum, but rarely likable. She is brutally honest and consistent, but self-righteous and unpleasant.
She hates her father, the drinker and wife beater, and despises her husband, the lazy weakling, as well as everybody else. Not just men, as some reviewers have written. We are not comfortable with her frustrated sense of entitlement. She lives and fails with her rigid way of being 'good'. A strong portrait of the obsessions of an 'enemy ridden' personality. Among the 4 texts in this volume, I find it the most interesting and the one that survived time best.

Next is 'Portnoy's Complaints', which brought Roth a commercial breakthrough. He had been appreciated and awarded for a dozen years already, but now came the big bucks. Portnoy has a mother issue and a sex obsession. The narration is the adult man's monologue to a shrink, about Jewish childhood, masturbation habits since boyhood, his fixation on 'goy' women, his lack of commitment to anybody. The novel is funny and provocative, but slightly dated (its offensiveness has become common place) and it derails towards the end in a tasteless and offensive climax. I don't see it as a major master piece.

Then comes a short satirical novel on Richard Nixon, 'Our Gang'. It is unfortunately quite dated. Reality exceeded Roth's polite expectations.
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Format: 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.
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