Sabbath's Theater

( 11 )

Overview

Sabbath's Theater is a comic creation of epic proportions, and Mickey Sabbath is its gargantuan hero. Once a scandalously inventive puppeteer, Sabbath at sixty-four is still defiantly antagonistic and exceedingly libidinous. But after the death of his long-time mistress?an erotic free spirit whose adulterous daring surpassed even his own?Sabbath embarks on a turbulent journey into his past. Bereft and grieving, besieged by the ghosts of those who loved and hated him most, he contrives a succession of farcical ...

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Sabbath's Theater

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Overview

Sabbath's Theater is a comic creation of epic proportions, and Mickey Sabbath is its gargantuan hero. Once a scandalously inventive puppeteer, Sabbath at sixty-four is still defiantly antagonistic and exceedingly libidinous. But after the death of his long-time mistress—an erotic free spirit whose adulterous daring surpassed even his own—Sabbath embarks on a turbulent journey into his past. Bereft and grieving, besieged by the ghosts of those who loved and hated him most, he contrives a succession of farcical disasters that take him to the brink of madness and extinction.

Winner of the 1995 National Book Award

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Editorial Reviews

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

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Roth's erotic black comedy of an aging puppeteer won the National Book Award. (Aug.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679772590
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/17/1996
  • Series: Vintage International Series
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 146,536
  • Product dimensions: 5.14 (w) x 8.01 (h) x 0.94 (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
( 11 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 1, 2002

    A Darkly Comic Masterpiece of Rich Complexity

    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.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2002

    Outstanding and more than what I expected

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 25, 2014

    Belongs in an Adult Book store

    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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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 7, 2001

    A close view into the mind of a genuine psychopath!

    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!

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    Posted October 26, 2008

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    Posted March 28, 2011

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    Posted July 22, 2014

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