Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Portnoy's Complaint

Portnoy's Complaint is the third book in my assault on American Fiction. In it, author Philip Roth explores the darkly comic insecurities of a young Jew, Alexander Portnoy. Since I'm not Jewish, I often felt like an outsider listening to an inside-joke. I found it funny but missed out on the tearful belly laughs that I pictured Jewish men having--because they had their own childhood stories of guilt-inducing mothers and resenting Christmas. But in addition to being Jewish, Alexander Portnoy is also a boy, and the telling of his maturation fearlessly exposes an inner dialogue that is embarrassingly universal.

The style of narrative for Portnoy's Complaint is unique; the only voice heard is that of the protagonist himself. I have read this book described as 'a long rant', but I found it more like listening to a funny friend tell stories. We all have friends whose discussions are basically them speaking. For men, the struggles of poor Alexander Portnoy will provide a nostalgic remembrance of adolescence (ages 12-30)--that confusing inner experience rarely examined and, of course, never talked about. For women, enter at your own risk. The contents revealed here are vile, pathetic, and very real. You might not ever look at your man the same way again.

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