Sabbath's Theater

Sabbath's Theater

by Philip Roth


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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780679772590
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/17/1996
Series: Vintage International Series
Pages: 464
Sales rank: 257,298
Product dimensions: 5.12(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.02(d)

About 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. He twice won the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He 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.” 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. 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. He died in 2018.



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 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
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.
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.
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.
Prop2gether on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If Philip Roth had stuck to his story, this would have been a marvelous read. Instead, there are pages (and hours if you listen) of descriptions of sexual escapades, sexual exclamations, sexual innuendo, sexual appendages, ad nauseum. There really are limits to how much of that you can stand when it really doesn't add to the story or the characters. I agree with the critics and reviewers who are stunned that this was a National Book Award winner. When Roth plays it straight, there's a funny story here. Unfortunately, he seemed more interested in inserting every sexual fantasy or experience he's ever had.
BALE on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sabbath¿s Theater is a superbly written novel by Philip Roth. He brings to life a loathsome, usurious adult man ¿ Sabbath; one of those true-to-life characters one would normally feel repelled by. Yet, somehow, Roth manages to elicit, from his reader, a misplaced passion for this failure of a man. By looking back at his life and times, growing up in the 1940¿s during WWII, one understands the major life events that affected Sabbath and the lives of those closest to him. No one has a free pass to use ones¿ life circumstances as an excuse for immoral or otherwise, bad behavior. However, Sabbath possesses an underlying humanity that causes the reader to feel pity and compassion for him. That is the success of Philip Roth¿s creativity. He is a master writer with the immeasurable ability to take his readers to uncomfortable places, yet bring them comfort in doing so.
Erinys on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book gives you an idea of what an agitated depression (or a wrecked life) is like. The main character is stunted--impotent--emotionally, and even worse the sex is plentiful but numbingly repetitive and lacking vitality in its depiction: it reminded me of when I once attempted Marquis de Sade's 120 Days of Sodom. I almost put it down, but Philip Roth seemed to know just how much a reader can take, and there would be a funny bit¿always at Sabbath's expense (not that he didn't deserve it), or a misrepresentation so infuriating that like Sabbath I kept on. The main character dominates the book so completely that not even the all seeing third person narration feels safe. It's wonderful to look into the writing and pinpoint how and where this undermining is done¿I won't ruin it here. Highly recommended book if you're willing to ride it out.
markfinl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wow, just wow. This book is so audacious, transgressive, repugnant, funny and fascinating. It may be the best book written in the last twenty five years. It's the story of Mickey Sabbath, a failed puppetteer and aging hedonist. It's also a comment on modern psychology and the recovery movement, an elegy for the dead of World War II and a comment on the sexual mores of the nineties. Just an unbelieveably dense, layered book full of characters so alive that felt as if I were in another world while reading the book.
logmanw on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Interesting perspective on the values of today's society and how much of an impact a single lost and perverted soul can have on everyone else... The worst and best part of the book is that you constantly want the main character to be dealt a world of pain because of his complete lack of morals. The problem is, this complete lack of morals causes him to not really care what happens to him, leaving the reader REALLY FRUSTRATED.I guess this strange psychological experience is what won "Sabbath's Theater" the National Book Award, though.
zip_000 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I obviously have a different opinion of this work than some of the other reviewers. This is probably Roth's most sexually depraved novel, and admittedly he takes it too far at times. But the too far is one of the points. One of the other reviewers talks about wanting Sabbath to be "dealt a world of pain", but I couldn't disagree more. I always identified with Sabbath; I always felt sorry for him - even when I was repulsed by him. He is certainly a disgusting character, but one amazing thing that I found in this book was that within his relationship with Drenka, what on the outside looks disgusting, on the inside of the relationship is sweet and loving. The "defiling" of her grave - in the various ways that he does - can easily be seen as an extension of that. Taken out of context, it is repulsive, but within context it is almost beautiful. ...well, beautiful may be taking it a bit far.The sexuality is not the part of Sabbath that I had difficulty with; I had much more trouble with his treatment of his wife. Even when it felt like he was doing something good by her - like visiting her in rehab - he does something horrible - like writing what he wrote in her diary. I do however share his disdain for insipid 12 step programs.Beyond the story, this book was also interesting in that in a few sections the writing style is quite a bit different from the other Roth books that I've read.
piefuchs on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I can believe that I loved a book that was seemingly about little other than a man's desire for sex for the first 100 or so pages. Roth is in a class of his own and this book does not disappoint. Definately influenced by political correctness and the Lewinsky affair. Wonderful.
ragwaine on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Witty as all hell, makes you look at taboos in a different light. Didn't need some of the graphic scenes. Makes me want to read regular fiction more often.
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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!