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Sabbath's Theater 1st Edition

3.8 out of 5 stars 122 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0395739822
ISBN-10: 0395739829
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Amazon.com Review

Mickey Sabbath, the hero in Sabbath's Theater, the winner of the 1995 National Book Award, makes a concerted effort to be bad. Like Alexander Portnoy, the famously self-abusing character in Roth's 1969 novel Portnoy's Complaint, Sabbath has an appetite for "acts of exhibitionism, voyeurism, fetishism, auto-eroticism and oral coitus." But while Portnoy's antics were usually comical and liberating, Sabbath often feels imprisoned by his own acts of self-indulgence. Though his frantic pursuit of sex is a desperate attempt to abate his anxieties about death, it only serves to obliterate any semblance of real life he could have had.

From Publishers Weekly

Those who feel that Roth's last few novels, brilliant as they often were, have been excessively cerebral and self-referential, can relax at the prospect of his latest. For this is Roth in full sardonic, outrageous cry?a sort of Portnoy for a later generation, gonads miraculously intact, but with an overlay of hard-won wisdom, celebration and regret. Mickey Sabbath is an elderly relic of the diabolical young puppeteer who was once arrested for coaxing a young Columbia student's breast out of her blouse with the sheer effrontery of his insinuating performing fingers. Now, living in obscure poverty in New Hampshire with a wife who's in aggressive recovery from the alcoholism to which he has driven her, he is reviewing his life?and continuing to act on his remarkable principles, which exemplify what one of his few remaining friends calls "a remarkable panegyric for obscenity." He has had a deliriously erotic relationship with Drenka, the concupiscent wife of a local Yugoslavian innkeeper, and her sudden death from cancer quite undoes him. His involvement with a student at a college where, unwisely, he had been hired to teach theater arts led to an erotic phone-sex tape that is being widely bootlegged; and when he goes to New York to attend the funeral of an old colleague, he ransacks the dresser drawers of his indulgent host's teenage daughter, reveling in her saucy underthings and seeking the risque Polaroids he knows all young girls keep somewhere; he also does his best to seduce the man's wife. Not, one would think, a sympathetic subject, and at first Mickey's overwhelming misanthropy and obsessive eroticism make the reader uneasy. Soon, however, Roth's insidious skill at deeply involving the reader in a seemingly alien world begins to work its magic. Mickey's memories of the death of his cherished older brother in WWII and his growing up on the Jersey shore; a visit he pays to a centenarian uncle; and the way he picks out a grave in the ratty Jewish cemetery where his family is laid?these are passages that could only be the work of a master novelist, profoundly funny, poignant and human. By the time Mickey has said goodbye to Drenka, in one of the most moving?and perverse?deathbed scenes in literature, then been arrested by her policeman son for lovingly urinating on her grave, it is clear there is nothing Roth cannot accomplish?and somehow turn into a seriocomic affirmation. This is a book that will shock and delight in equal measure, the summit of a remarkable literary career. Major ad/promo.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 451 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin; 1st edition (September 12, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0395739829
  • ISBN-13: 978-0395739822
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (122 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #901,831 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Daniel Fineberg on August 31, 2004
Format: Paperback
The incredible Philip Roth, who gets stronger and stronger as the years go by, plunges further down into the sewer than he's ever gone before to give us Mickey Sabbath, an anti-hero if ever there was one. Think of him as Falstaff and Milton's Satan mixed with some Marquis de Sade....a personality so large and so outrageous that the more adventurous readers may find themselves shelving their morality for a little while in order to more gleefully bask in the filth. Sabbath is a 65-year-old man living in the quaint New England town of Madamaska Falls. He is a retired puppeteer (a dirty puppeteer, of course, until arthritis sidelined him), and now he lives off of a wife who is a recovering alcoholic, and spends all his free time and energy chasing the outermost boundaries of sexuality with Drenka, the inn-keeper's wife, who is more than willing to follow him to those boundaries and even lead him past them. A string of tragedies sends Mickey into a whirlwind and brings back a flood of memories from his troubled but colorful past. The narrative intermingling of past and present is on full display and will be familiar to readers of Roth. Also, this is one of the rare Roth books that doesn't have a first-person narrator, but an omniscient voice (of course, Roth's voice). Sabbath, however, is such an overwhelming presence that he often hijacks the narrative and runs off with it, particularly at those times when he seems to be coming apart at the seams. Those who are quick to always correlate the man Roth with his main characters should ask themselves how he can be so adept at switching points-of-view so quickly and without warning, and without risk of confusion. The answer is, because he's a master.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
In Sabbath's Theater, Philip Roth finally showed us he could write a book in which neither Philip Roth nor his thinly-veiled stand-in, Nathan Zuckerman, made an appearance.
The theme of Sabbath's Theater has been done before: a lecherous, unconventional man railing at the ravages of time and the dwindling of the sexual potency by which he has defined his very existence. Most of the time, however, this theme is poorly written, the characters trite and cliched. Roth, not surprisingly, invests this novel with more lyrical energy, more sexual frankness, sharper comedy and deeper seriousness than has any writer before.
Although Roth does make use of both flashback and association, the plot of Sabbath's Theater is brisk. Mickey Sabbath, who went off to sea at the age of eighteen just so he could visit the world's brothels, is a loathsome character. His abiding philosophy of life is simply to do whatever he pleases and never to worry about pleasing anyone else. Nothing phases him, in fact, he seems to take pleasure in his uncanny ability to antagonize others. Their outrage seems to be only a reflection of his own self-worth. Mickey Sabbath manages to hurt, deceive, betray, offend, insult and abuse just about everyone with whom he comes into contact.
A true degenerate, Mickey Sabbath may seem to lack any sense of moral conscience. Although anyone meeting such a character would deny it, Sabbath actually spent an idyllic childhood on the Jersey shore; a childhood that was shattered by a traumatic dual loss. In an effort to deal with his loss and the resultant pain, to stamp out the brutality of life, and, to affirm his own sense of aliveness, Sabbath turns to carnal pleasures with a vengeance, indulging each and every sexual impulse.
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By A Customer on September 29, 1999
Format: Paperback
It pains me to see so many reviewers either entirely miss, or disregard, the key note of this book. That is, quite ironically, loss; the story uses an unconventional, intentionally confrontational approach to depict a sad struggle with spiritual and physical decay. Sabbath's lifelong inability to empathize with anyone (incuding himself) is his downfall and is NOT something Roth celebrates. Disgust with the scatology of this book comes from a reductionist reading; we can harbor some disgust only while taking up the challenge of feeling pity for the repulsive puppeteer, particularly in the masterful and heartbreaking encounters with Uncle Fish, his parents' graves, and all things past. An inspiring book, written in Roth's trademark lyric American vernacular, to be read and re-read.
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Format: Paperback
I first read Sabbath's Theater--my first encounter with Roth, for that matter--when it was initially published in the late 90s. I thought that it was the funniest book that I had ever encountered. I laughed so much that my girlfriend could not wait for me to finish it and went to buy her own copy. I was at that age when I had life by the tail. I was just finishing my MA, I was entirely comfortable with my subject, I was in love with a girl to whom I would eventually become wed, the gym, my bicycle, Nietzsche, Foucault: hell, life in general. In short, in spite of having had a brain tumor and thus possessing an understanding of the precarity (if I may employ a neologism) of life, or perhaps precisely because of that fact, I felt as if nothing in the world could slow me down. I was the illusory master of my universe. In Roth, and to the extent that Mickey Sabbath appeared to me to be so entirely himself I simply found confirmation that such mastery was indeed possible. For there is no doubt that ST is a text of absolute unmitigated brilliance; and, it was so incredibly, side-splitting funny.

Alas, having been thoroughly dethroned, Cronos having faced the Zeus that is life with all of its contingencies, I decided that I needed something a bit less morose than Iris Murdoch. Thus, I approached ST for the second time with a sense of great anticipation; I really needed something to lighten the load. In was during this encounter that I discovered what effect a true piece of art can impose upon its consumer. (I employ this term in the sense of taking into oneself and making a part of oneself, not in the sense of one who purchases things in a willy-nilly search for authenticity.
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