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Sabbath's Theater

Sabbath's Theater

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by Philip Roth

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He is relentlessly defiant. He is exceedingly libidinous. His appetite for the outrageous is insatiable. He is Mickey Sabbath, the aging, raging powerhouse whose savage effrontery and mocking audacity are at the heart of Philip Roth's astonishing new novel. Sabbath's Theater tells Mickey's story in the wake of the death of his mistress, an erotic free spirit whose


He is relentlessly defiant. He is exceedingly libidinous. His appetite for the outrageous is insatiable. He is Mickey Sabbath, the aging, raging powerhouse whose savage effrontery and mocking audacity are at the heart of Philip Roth's astonishing new novel. Sabbath's Theater tells Mickey's story in the wake of the death of his mistress, an erotic free spirit whose adulterous daring exceeds even his own. Once a scandalously inventive puppeteer, Mickey is now in his mid-sixties and besieged by ghosts - of his mother, his beloved brother, his vanished first wife, his mistress of thirteen years. Bereft and grieving, he embarks on a turbulent journey back into his past, one that brings him to the brink of madness and extinction. But no matter how ardently he courts death, he is too exuberantly alive to succeed at dying. Sabbath's Theater is a comic creation of epic proportions, and Mickey Sabbath is its gargantuan hero. This book, which presents Philip Roth at the peak of his powers, is sur

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Roth's erotic black comedy of an aging puppeteer won the National Book Award. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
"A great work . . . Roth's richest, most rewarding novel . . . funny and profound . . . as powerful as writing can be." —The New York Times Book Review

"This splendidly wicked book . . . is among the most remarkable novels in recent years. . . . The energy of the book is amazing.... Roth is hilariously serious about life and death." —Frank Kermode, The New York Review of Books

"Roth's extraordinary new novel is an astonishment and a scourge, and one of the strangest achievements of fictional prose that I have ever read. . . . It is very exquisite." —James Wood, New Republic

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Meet the Author

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, previously awarded to John Dos Passos, William Faulkner and Saul Bellow, among others. He has twice won the National Book Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award. 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" and the W.H. Smith Award for the Best Book of the Year, making Roth the first writer in the forty-six-year history of the prize to win it twice.

In 2005 Roth became the third living American writer to have his works 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. In 2012 he won Spain’s highest honor, the Prince of Asturias Award, and in 2013 he received France’s highest honor, Commander of the Legion of Honor.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
March 19, 1933
Place of Birth:
Newark, New Jersey
B.A. in English, Bucknell University, 1954; M.A. in English, University of Chicago, 1955

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Sabbath's Theater 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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. Even as Sabbath indulges his crasser nature, however, and casts a satirical eye on those who deny their sensual impulses, he still endeavors to understand himself and the workings of the universe. In fact, much of the novel's comic pathos is derived from the tension that exists between Sabbath's base nature and his lechery and his seemingly incomprehensible yearning for cosmic illumination. There is a lot of graphic sex in Sabbath's Theater and most readers will probably find it simply too perverse. I did not enjoy reading this book, and, although I think I understand Mickey Sabbath, I have to admit that I hated him. He suffers, that cannot be denied, but he is simply so perverse, and his behavior so amoral, that I really didn't care. To be fair, I do have to admit that the perversity in this book did enhance and advance my understanding of Mickey Sabbath and the conflicts in which he is embroiled. And Philip Roth is certainly better at creating degenerate, or at least morally ambivalent characters, than he is at creating the lofty or the solemn. His 'good' characters are simply too good to be true, while Sabbath, much as we may despise him, is completely credible. He may be despicable and perverted, but at least he knows it. The writing in Sabbath's Theater is absolutely first-rate; it is pure Philip Roth and it crackles with more energy and exuberance than Portnoys' Complaint. The characters are more complex, the narrative more sophisticated and the tonal range wider than many of Roth's other works. The ending of the book virtually drips with irony. This is a multi-layered novel and one that is brilliantly original. It also contains some of the funniest writing to be found anywhere in American fiction today. Sabbath's Theater is, at its heart, a darkly comic masterpiece of rich complexity from one of America's finest authors. But it is simply too perverse for most readers to enjoy.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As an editor of a local erotic anthology, I thought I'd be ready for Phillip Roth. Mickey Sabbath is a marvel. You feel sorry for him. You loathe him, and wish he would die just as much as he wants to die. He is a savage human. Phillip Roth not only takes us through the sexual journeys of his character but also provides us with some insight into one Jewish American, and how he deals with his identity. An outstanding novel, and a must read for those of you who believe in the core of human spirit and psyche.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
puzzleman More than 1 year ago
I've read three other Roth works. They were all good. This one started well. It was funny, erotic, slightly twerky. But it descended into boring rot. A number of scenes were done well. Rosa, the housekeeper, caught our pervert in the act. The super at the cemetery and his dogs were interesting. And the visit with Fish was quite productive. I choose to believe Roth wrote this on a dare. What value is there in this work? It is not literature, but it is porn.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This book intrigues the mind while amusing soul. Intelect mixed with sexual inuendo and disturbing images, Roth is able to hypnotize the reader with his talent. You can't help but feel pity for the pathetic Mickey, while hating him at the same time. King Lear turns in his grave! A great read. Highly recommended, for those that can stomach it!