My attention was recently drawn towards an article focusing on the career of author Philip Roth. The article was written in response to Roth announcing his retirement from writing after his most recent novel. As I read, I found myself intrigued by Roth’s career as a writer. I had never read anything by Roth, but in researching his works decided to pick up one of his better known novels, Portnoy’s Complaint.
Portnoy’s Complaint is written as a continuous conversation from sex-obsessed main character Alexander Portnoy to his psychoanalyst Dr. Spielvogel. The first page of the novel offers the clinical explanation of Portnoy’s Complaint which reads like it was derived from a manual on sexual dysfunction. From the start it is easy to recognize why Roth’s novel was once on the challenged books list as it deals with a theme some would deem inappropriate, sexuality and the freedom there-in. The narration follows Portnoy’s adventures over different periods of time allowing readers to experience scenes from different stages of his life. Growing up in an extremely Jewish household and community, Portnoy is stifled under his mother’s continuous nagging. As a lust-ridden, young Jewish bachelor, Roth’s main character explains his libidinal exploits and urges to Dr. Spielvogel allowing readers to see the true dilemma Portnoy faces: his lost sense of himself, his past and destiny which is defined by everything around him, except for himself. For Portnoy, growing up as the only son in a Jewish household is no easy task. His life and future are defined by his parents and their culture.
In addition to being a coming of age tale, Portnoy’s Complaint elaborates on the experience and pressures the narrator sees as being part of an American Jewish family. Roth’s novel is humorous and sarcastic in dealing with a subject that can make many people uptight. Truly an enjoyable read, it is now clear why Philip Roth’s retirement was much talked about in the literary community. - Kelli Tatum, Reference