Portnoy's Complaint

( 29 )

Overview

Portnoy's Complaint n. [after Alexander Portnoy (1933- )] A disorder in which strongly-felt ethical and altruistic impulses are perpetually warring with extreme sexual longings, often of a perverse nature. Spielvogel says: 'Acts of exhibitionism, voyeurism, fetishism, auto-eroticism and oral coitus are plentiful; as a consequence of the patient's "morality," however, neither fantasy nor act issues in genuine sexual gratification, but rather in overriding feelings of shame and the dread of retribution, ...
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Overview

Portnoy's Complaint n. [after Alexander Portnoy (1933- )] A disorder in which strongly-felt ethical and altruistic impulses are perpetually warring with extreme sexual longings, often of a perverse nature. Spielvogel says: 'Acts of exhibitionism, voyeurism, fetishism, auto-eroticism and oral coitus are plentiful; as a consequence of the patient's "morality," however, neither fantasy nor act issues in genuine sexual gratification, but rather in overriding feelings of shame and the dread of retribution, particularly in the form of castration.' (Spielvogel, O. "The Puzzled Penis," Internationale Zeitschrift für Psychoanalyse, Vol. XXIV, p. 909.) It is believed by Spielvogel that many of the symptoms can be traced to the bonds obtaining in the mother-child relationship.

With a new Afterword by the author for the 25th Anniversary edition.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Roth is the bravest writer in the United States. He's morally brave, he's politically brave. And Portnoy is part of that bravery." —Cynthia Ozick, Newsday

"Deliciously funny...absurd and exuberant, wild and uproarious... a brilliantly vivid reading experience."--New York Times Book Review

"Simply one of the two or three funniest works in American fiction." —Chicago Sun-Times

"Touching as well as hilariously lewd.... Roth is vibrantly talented...as marvelous a mimic and fantasist as has been produced by the most verbal group in human history." —Alfred Kazin, New York Review of Books

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The 25th-anniversary edition of Roth's classic novel features a new afterword by the author. (Oct.)
Library Journal
This is the first audio recording of this work, tying in with the 30th anniversary of the novel's publication. Author Roth both chose the reader, actor Ron Silver, and supervised the taping. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Josh Greenfeld
...(If) by this definitive outpouring into a definitive vessel of a recurring theme, thus guilt (screaming,strident, hysterical, hyperbolic, hyperthyroid) has been successfully expiated, and future American-Jewish novels will be all the quieter, subtler, more reflective and reasoned because of it, then this novel can truly be judged a milestone. Books of the Century, The New York Times review February, 1969
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679756453
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/20/1994
  • Series: Vintage International Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 110,596
  • Product dimensions: 5.19 (w) x 7.99 (h) x 0.64 (d)

Meet the Author

Philip Roth

In 1997 Philip Roth won the Pulitzer Prize for American Pastoral. In 1998 he received the National Medal of Arts at the White House and in 2002 the highest award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Gold Medal in Fiction. He has twice won the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He has won the PEN/Faulkner Award three times. In 2005 The Plot Against America received the Society of American Historians’ Prize for “the outstanding historical novel on an American theme for 2003-2004.” Recently Roth received PEN’s two most prestigious awards: in 2006 the PEN/Nabokov Award and in 2007 the PEN/Bellow Award for achievement in American fiction. Roth is the only living American novelist to have his work published in a comprehensive, definitive edition by the Library of America. In 2011 he received the National Humanities Medal at the White House, and was later named the fourth recipient of the Man Booker International Prize.

Biography

Philip Roth's long and celebrated career has been something of a thorn in the side of the writer. As it is for so many, fame has been the proverbial double-edged sword, bringing his trenchant tragic-comedies to a wide audience, but also making him a prisoner of expectations and perceptions. Still, since 1959, Roth has forged along, crafting gorgeous variations of the Great American Novel and producing, in addition, an autobiography (The Facts) and a non-fictional account of his father's death (Patrimony: A True Story).

Roth's novels have been oft characterized as "Jewish literature," a stifling distinction that irks Roth to no end. Having grown up in a Jewish household in a lower-middle-class sub-section of Newark, New Jersey, he is incessantly being asked where his seemingly autobiographical characters end and the author begins, another irritant for Roth. He approaches interviewers with an unsettling combination of stoicism, defensiveness, and black wit, qualities that are reflected in his work. For such a high-profile writer, Roth remains enigmatic, seeming to have laid his life out plainly in his writing, but refusing to specify who the real Philip Roth is.

Roth's debut Goodbye, Columbus instantly established him as a significant writer. This National Book Award winner was a curious compendium of a novella that explored class conflict and romantic relationships and five short stories. Here, fully formed in Roth's first outing, was his signature wit, his unflinching insightfulness, and his uncanny ability to satirize his character's situations while also presenting them with humanity. The only missing element of his early work was the outrageousness he would not begin to cultivate until his third full-length novel Portnoy's Complaint -- an unquestionably daring and funny post-sexual revolution comedy that tipped Roth over the line from critically acclaimed writer to literary celebrity.

Even as Roth's personal relationships and his relationship to writing were severely shaken following the success of Portnoy's Complaint, he continued publishing outrageous novels in the vein of his commercial breakthrough. There was Our Gang, a parodic attack on the Nixon administration, and The Breast, a truly bizarre take on Kafka's Metamorphosis, and My Life as a Man, the pivotal novel that introduced Roth's literary alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman.

Zuckerman would soon be the subject of his very own series, which followed the writer's journey from aspiring young artist with lofty goals to a bestselling author, constantly bombarded by idiotic questions, to a man whose most important relationships have all but crumbled in the wake of his success. The Zuckerman Trilogy (The Ghost Writer, Zuckerman Unbound, and The Counterlife) directly paralls Roth's career and unfolds with aching poignancy and unforgiving humor.

Zuckerman would later reemerge in another trilogy, although this time he would largely be relegated to the role of narrator. Roth's American Trilogy (I Married a Communist, the PEN/Faulkner Award winning The Human Stain, and The Plot Against America), shifts the focus to key moments in the history of late-20th –century American history.

In Everyman (2006) , Roth reaches further back into history. Taking its name from a line of 15th-century English allegorical plays, Everyman is classic Roth -- funny, tragic, and above all else, human. It is also yet another in a seemingly unbreakable line of critical favorites, praised by Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and The Library Journal.

In 2007's highly anticipated Exit Ghost, Roth returned Nathan Zuckerman to his native Manhattan for one final adventure, thus bringing to a rueful, satisfying conclusion one of the most acclaimed literary series of our day. While this may (or may not) be Zuckerman's swan song, it seems unlikely that we have seen the last Philip Roth. Long may he roar.

Good To Know

Before publishing his first novel, Roth wrote an episode of the suspenseful TV classic Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

A film adaptation of American Pastoral is currently in the works. Australian director Phillip Noyce (Rabbit Proof Fence; Patriot Games) is on board to direct.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Philip Milton Roth
    2. Hometown:
      Connecticut
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 19, 1933
    2. Place of Birth:
      Newark, New Jersey
    1. Education:
      B.A. in English, Bucknell University, 1954; M.A. in English, University of Chicago, 1955

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 29 )
Rating Distribution

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(14)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 29 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2001

    Hysterically funny, yet serious

    Easily the funniest -- and one of the most gratifying -- books I've ever read. Having avoided it for many years (it was published when I was a kid) because I remembered the adults in my (American Jewish) family reacting so adversely to it, I finally gave it a try when I was in my 30s, and I couldn't stop laughing. If I'd read this book as a young woman, it would have saved me 20 years of therapy, because there, on every page, was the kind of neurosis that so many (I'd wager) American Jews -- and possibly American immigrants in general -- experience, and why/how they experience it, and how it gets passed on. It's not just about sex; it's about all the familial (particularly) and social forces that work on us to make us the way we are, and how we're stifled, suffocated. And it's done with incredible humor. It's also a gutsy book, because it paints such an honest, if unflattering, picture, which exposed Roth to the (unwarranted) wrath of mainstream American Jewry. As for the assaults on Roth's (and his narrator's) personality, the accusations of misogyny, etc. -- all beside the point. This book, along with Roth's others, is funny, sharply intelligent, right on point, and a great read. As a reader, that's all that matters to me. Enjoy!

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 6, 2008

    Unbelievable

    Roth's story of Alex Portnoy is hands down one of the most amazing books you'll ever read. It's a book of flow, a tide you never want to get off. I can't begin to explain how amazing it is: the story of a young Jewish man battling libido and his mother's eternal guilt.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2003

    Funny!

    I think this is one of the funniest books ever written. As a woman it has also helped me to understand some of what men may be experiencing (or maybe not!) Anyway, I laughed so hard I cried.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 17, 2010

    Laugh out loud funny

    My book group revisited this recently, and it remains one of the funniest books ever written. Roth is probably the best living American writer, and this book is a must read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 10, 2002

    As painfully funny and poignant as literature gets

    This work is a classic of American literature, and the funniest book I have ever read.I have read almost all of Roth's work and this is in my judgment still the best, the most profoundly moving and the most painfully funny . There is much beauty and truth in this book in its depiction of American Jewish life , and family relations. I do not think Roth is really guilty of the charge of Jewish self - hatred, but rather that he tells a painful truth about what he loves and hates and is closest to. I first read and reread this book years ago, when it first came out, 1968 I believe, in another world and with a different mind - set and religious feeling than I have now.Much of the vulgarity in the book disturbs me today in a way it did less than , but this I think is secondary to the great poetic power of Roth 's writing , and his revealing aspects of experience in a way no one had been able to write of them before. This is an American classic and a book people will be reading and enjoying many years from now.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2013

    Saved me in high school

    Read this in secret in high school. Much too controverdial in its first publication for a 16 year old to be caught with. But it saved me! With certain sexual practices still taboo and not for proper conversation, i read this savoring every sexusl experience not for their ability to excite but to supply me with the realization that others masturbated a d loved it and lived for it. I was not alone. Guilt was not necessary anymore. I didn't do it with my fsmily's dinner as Portnoy so hystericslly did: a raw piece of liver thta he uses and washes off and returns to the refrigerator. Classic scene. I was absolved and thankful. Lent it to some eager friends who also read this locked in the bathroom. We shyly talked and came to the understanding with enormous relief that we all enjoyed this taboo practice. I asked if anyone ever confessed to Father McKey when he heard our confessions. We agreed it would kill the old man and we knew before reading Portnoy we were headed for hell. Our friend Jim was caught by his father. His punishment was brutal. This didn't stop us. Portnoy was our god now. We bragged about doing it and like Portnoy aimed for the light bulb. Thanks to Mr Roth for liberating us.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2012

    Not for me.

    I could not get in to this book at all. Just so much rambling. I found the book very annoying. I had to stop half way through which I really dislike.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 19, 2001

    Pretty funny

    This was an extremely amusing book, though it had serious undercurrents as well. The first half of the book especially had me literally bursting out with laughter. Also a good way for a non-Jew to learn about Jewish culture. The best adolescent coming-of-age novel that I've read (I didn't particularly like 'Catcher in the Rye' and all those AP English classics).

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 1999

    amusing (and innocuous--never fear)

    This is one long Richard Lewis stand-up routine--amusing, but not nearly as funny as 'The Great American Novel'.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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