Sabbath's Theater
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Sabbath's Theater

3.82 of 5 stars 3.82  ·  rating details  ·  4,242 ratings  ·  321 reviews
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 jour...more
Paperback, 451 pages
Published August 6th 1996 by Vintage (first published 1995)
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MJ Nicholls
Nerves of steel are required for this 450pp assault on decency, indecency and all things neither decent nor indecent, but which probably involve sexagenarians masturbating in a teenage girl’s knicker drawer. Mickey Sabbath is a monster with an unstoppable capacity for sex, lechery and outright molestation, plus a proclivity for sledgehammering all relationships between human beings who aspire to behave like semi-respectable grown-ups. Like Simon Lynxx in D. Keith Mano’s Take Five, he has a conve...more
Dan Schwent
After the death of his longtime mistress, disgraced former puppeteer Mickey Sabbath sinks deeper and deeper into a prison of depression...

First off, Sabbath's Theater won the National Book award in 1995. It's not surprising since it was superbly written. On the other hand, it's also dirtier than a stack of used Longarm's. Seriously. Every time I thought it couldn't get any dirtier, Sabbath did something like masturbate on his mistress's grave.

There really isn't much of a plot. Sabbath's mistres...more
Kirk
I can respect other folks' positive reviews of SABBATH's THEATER. I'm normally a big Roth fan, too---I really got a lot out of AMERICAN PASTORAL, THE HUMAN STAIN, and THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA. SABBATH for me just didn't do the trick, however. Part of my issue with it, I think, is that Roth hasn't really worried about form or plot in ages---his novels unfold now as dramatic monologues, episodic and without any real drive. As a result, there's a distance between the reader and the action that can...more
Bart
Jul 29, 2007 Bart rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Tolerant adults with strong minds
In my opinion, this is the finest work of American fiction in the last 25 years.

Mickey Sabbath goes further than any other of Roth's characters. Each time Roth comes to an intersection in this novel, each time he has to decide whether to stop, slow down or accelerate, Roth goes faster.

This novel is a work of genius, perhaps the only novel of Roth's - from one cover to another - about which that can be said.

The best novels are those that entertain on multiple levels and after multiple readings. I...more
Paul
Jul 13, 2011 Paul rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: novels
I'm sad tonight - I just checked and I've run out of one-star-rated books to review. I've had my fun with all the really dreadful barrel-scrapings I've read over the years, and now I have to move into the two-star category. Which isn't half as amusing. Because now I have to be all wisely judging well on the one hand this, and the other hand that, you know, blah blah. So anyway, Philip The Roth. I need to explain that I went through this phase where a person - I will refer to the person as a pers...more
Joe
Jun 22, 2007 Joe rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: People who find literary sexual jokes funny, aging puppeteers
Shelves: college, fiction, jewish
The number one complaint against anything that Philip Roth writes is his treatment of women. I would just like to say that Roth's men aren't exactly shining examples of human virtue. Is Roth a Man-sogynist? The truth is that Roth's characters can be grotesque and still garner readerly sympathy. I just want to put that one out there-I am not disputing that his books are not somewhat placed in a "male gaze" and that his textual treatment of women can be hard to take, but Roth is not Bret Easton El...more
William
Non-stop, rebarbative descriptions of the sex act in a graveyard. An awful slog. For me, Roth is one of those hot or cold authors. This one left me stone cold. Hey, if you're looking for masturbatory fodder, this is your novel. I happen not to be. As an alternative I would recommended any of the following: American Pastoral, The Counterlife, The Ghost Writer, or The Human Stain. Certainly the first two here are masterpieces.
Jennifer Spiegel
Okay, now I get it. Now I get the whole Philip Roth thing—book prize judges quitting in protest over him, the sheer volume of those praising and condemning him, even what I’ve called elsewhere “absurd”—the suggestion that Roth is a self-hating Jew. (I still think this labeling applied to anyone is absurd.) I get what all the fuss is about.

Or how about that recent incident where Roth told a young writer to quit, because the writing life is hell? A bunch of us, including Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat,...more
Philip
I am recusing myself from this review.

It would not be fair to the book, to myself, or to anyone reading this as a review.


When I brought up the dilemma of reviewing the book at club, there was some interesting debate on the issue. Another member came up with this to help me out:

If Odysseus had to rate the Sirens' song - and he was limited to the goodreads 5 star rating scale, what would he give them? Obviously, the songs were pretty good. Does he give them 5 stars? Would that have upset the other...more
Matthew McCarthy
One word of warning: Philip Roth's novel Sabbath Theater is NOT for everyone. Some people will not be able to make it past the first 20 pages before they set the book down, go take a cold shower, and watch some Disney classic. Others who make it past the first 20 pages, may drop off after 70 pages. This novel reminds me of seeing people go to a cinema, watch the first half hour of a movie, then see them sneak out before halfway.

Why? Because Mickey Sabbath -- the novel's libidinous antihero -- is...more
Sandra
Le stelline che ho dato a questo romanzo sono una media tra la parte iniziale del libro e quella finale. All’inizio il romanzo è pornografia, sempre Philip Roth ha trattato nelle sue opere, a partire dal Lamento di Portnoy, il tema del sesso come antidoto al pensiero ossessivo della morte, ma in quest’opera egli eccede in un erotismo depravato e volgare (mi riferisco, ad esempio, per chi l’ha letto, nella trascrizione per esteso della telefonata fatta da Sabbath alla studentessa e da lei registr...more
Lee Davis
Reading this book was an interesting experience. I had just resolved not to let misogyny ruin my enjoyment of the last 3000 years of culture, and then Philip Roth comes along. Apart from the post-middle-age sexual liberation, everything else in the first half of the book had me seething with hatred. The only female character he has any respect for is a woman whose seeming purpose in life is to fulfill every sexual fantasy of the protagonist, a woman so sexually ambitious that she "thinks like a...more
WordsBeyondBorders
"Either foreswear fucking others or the affair is over",
Roth's 'Sabbath's Theater' begins with the above line. Mickey Sabbath a 64 year old washed out puppeteer, serial adulterer, high priest of debauchery is having a conversation with 'Drenka' the woman with whom he has been having an affair for the past 13 years. She wants monogamy in adultery and Sabbath obviously doesn't want to have anything to do with it and tries to dissuade her. Soon after the conversation 'Drenka' dies of cancer (the re...more
F.R.
Perhaps it’s not the right thing to do, but it’s unavoidable that I’ll end up comparing the book I’m reading to the one I’ve just read. And just having had Jonathan Franzen being endlessly worthy with ‘Freedom’, it was a great relief to leap in and find the remaining great old man of American letters, Phillip Roth, be truly scurrilous and bawdy with ‘Sabbath’s Theater’. This – for all its brilliance – is not a book to be taught in schools, or to be spoken about in hushed tones at posh dinner par...more
Pavel
i can't deny myself a pleasure to compare this book with The Elementary Particles although I've read Houellebecq's book about 8 years ago and don't remember it that well.
On the outer level books have nothing in common. One is about old Jewish pervert, retired puppet theatre actor who is described with the most radical sexual anomalies. He mastrubates on the grave of his beloved lover to remember how they were recalling on her deathbed how they peed on each other at some waterfall or how they sed...more
Steven
An amazing, densely narrated novel. The expression of characters uninhibited (or mostly uninhibited) by conventional morality is fully realized in the characterizations of Drenka and Sabbath. Of course Sabbath is also haunted as he navigates memory lane. And the novel is just crammed with his life, which bursts out and propels the novel forward, practically in spite of the variety of narrative strategies that Roth uses. The scene at the graveyard where Barrett masturbates on Drenka’s grave while...more
Jim
Another book people seem to love or hate that I love. Simple review is, it's Phillip Roth at his best/worst (all depends on your perspective). Beautifully unlikeable, lecherous character with a dying/dead soul. Phillip Roth somehow managed to make me feel sorry and empathetic for someone I found to be disgusting. I thought that was a pretty good trick. Also, Sabath's character is brilliantly developed and the book is fucking (carefully chosen word) hilarious. So if you don't mind being a bit dis...more
Jeremy
In spite of its reputation for being sex-soaked and filthy, I found Sabbath's theater to be, in terms of its sexual exploits, not all that wild. Maybe being a dirty old man carried some radical, transgressive power at one point (Falstaff and Bukowski, anyone?) but any sufficiently horny 12 year old with internet access today would probably not even blink at Mickey Sabbath's priapic exploits. Where the book does become shocking is in Roth's treatment of everything in Sabbath's life that isn't sex...more
Derek Ganzhorn
This is a wonderful book. Before reading it, I never really thought Roth compared to Pynchon for the title of greatest living novelist. After reading Sabbath's Theater, it is clear that Roth deserves a place not only next to Pynchon, but next to the all-time American greats. This is a very funny book, but every page of it is oozing with death and misery and pain. That Roth is able to pull this off is astounding, and puts him in the same league as Melville and Faulkner as a writer of great comic...more
Amin
Sabbath’s Theater is a work which is difficult to write about. Words like “moving”, “imaginative” or “deep” are not sufficient to describe it. At the end of the book you feel you’ve been reading four or five books and not just one. It’s a truly breathtaking read. It is Roth’s prose at its most dense. It’s one of those works which makes you put down the book every five pages, put your forehead on the table, and think and imagine for half an hour. The power and force is brutal.
First and foremost...more
Rusty
first read Sabbath's Theater--my first encounter with Roth, for that matter--when it was initially published in the late 90s. I thought that it was the funniest book that I had ever encountered. I laughed so much that my girlfriend could not wait for me to finish it and went to buy her own copy. I was at that age when I had life by the tail. I was just finishing my MA, I was entirely comfortable with my subject, I was in love with a girl to whom I would eventually become wed, the gym, my bicycl...more
Brian Calandra
This series of rancid descriptions of sexual depravity, each one topping the last, felt like a like literature's "Metal Machine Music." Is this actually inspired fiction or just open pornography? The critics supplying the book's endorsements so enthusiastically believe it's the former that it made me wonder if either the reading community suffers from a collective diagnosable sexual disorder or I needed to immediately subscribe to internet pornography to properly culturally develop. In the end,...more
Jafar
Respeck, Mr. Roth! Respeck! You a fine writer.

I was starting to think that maybe I’m just getting old and grumpy. Disgusted with the obnoxiousness of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, unmoved by A Clockwork Orange, too squeamish to appreciate The Wasp Factory. What now? Go reread Jane Austen?

A book can be about a supreme bastard, and it can have a nonstop torrent of kinky sex and other assortment of unconventional and/or immoral conduct and lifestyle that various people may find offensive, but if...more
Bryan Kelly
Dec 24, 2007 Bryan Kelly rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone
Oh, christ, what a hulking, craven, infernal, tragi-comic cyclops is 'Sabbaths Theater.' I have not laughed out loud as much and as often and as darkly since 'Molloy' a few thousand years ago.
Not for the faint of heart? Absolutely. Roth has fully unleashed himself here and seems to have written the thing in a state of unashamed hypo-mania. And, like the author of 'Molloy' [ a counter-shape in so many ways] he produces moments of exquisite tenderness inside in a landscape mad with crushing ine...more
Simone Subliminalpop
Mickey Sabbath, burattinaio sessantaquattrenne in pensione, alla prese con il suo passato sempre più pesante e il suo presente sempre più ridotto, una moglie ex alcolizzata e un’amante sepolta di fresco nella tomba.
L’ennesimo parto della magnifica penna di Roth crea un personaggio, come suo solito, per il quale si fa il tifo nonostante sia tutt’altro che un buono. È la spudorata verità a farti amare le grottesche avventure di Sabbath, il rocambolesco reale che irrompe con tutta la goffa sbadatag...more
Kurt
Mickey Sabbath is one of the most loathesome human beings ever fictionalized. A 64 year old degenerate without a single redeeming factor. Take for instance the scene where he masturbates on his recently deceased (and equally degenerate) lover's grave. Ok, so that was a little tame.
Then how about the scene where, when invited graciously into a longtime friend's home, Mickey proceeds to take a bath in his friend's 19 year old daughter's tub. Having placed a framed photo of said daughter on the...more
Becky
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Irene
La mia prima volta con Roth si è rivelata un fiasco totale. Ok, il romanzo vuole scavare nelle perversioni di un certo tipo d'america, vuole usare quell'umorismo scabro(so) che tanto mi ricorda Bukowski, e nei temi anche Miller, seppure si tratta di periodi e storie completamente diversi...
Onestamente questo libro non mi ha lasciato niente, niente se non sensazioni spiacevoli di una vita agli estremi del buon senso, di un uomo convinto di aver a che fare sempre e solo con burattini senza sentim...more
Giovanna
Sono d'accordo col fatto che nei romanzi ci sia posto per il sesso:parlano della vita e il sesso della vita fa parte.Ed è vero che nei romanzi americani contemporanei il sesso non manca quasi mai.Ma la descrizione continua degli atti sessuali o meglio l'abuso che se ne fa di essa,finisce per stancare ed annoiare.O almeno annoia me.
Salvo questo romanzo di Roth,che era fino ad ora,nel suo genere, uno dei miei scrittori preferiti,perchè in mezzo a tanta noia riesce ad infilare alcune pagine veramen...more
Frank
This novel is not for everyone especially if you are easily offended. It tells the story of Mickey Sabbath, the classic 64-year old dirty old man! The novel is profane, perverse, and sometimes on the edge of disgusting in describing the sexual exploits of Sabbath who was a finger puppeteer in New York that would casually expose the breasts of a young student with one hand while performing his act with the other. This is one of the milder aspects of his sexual career - I won't describe some of wh...more
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Philip Milton Roth is an American novelist. He gained early literary fame with the 1959 collection Goodbye, Columbus (winner of 1960's National Book Award), cemented it with his 1969 bestseller Portnoy's Complaint, and has continued to write critically-acclaimed works, many of which feature his fictional alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman. The Zuckerman novels began with The Ghost Writer in 1979, and inc...more
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American Pastoral (The American Trilogy #1) Portnoy's Complaint The Plot Against America The Human Stain (The American Trilogy, #3) Everyman

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“Oh Mickey, it was wonderful, it was fun - the whole kitten and kaboozle. It was like living. And to be denied that whole part would be a great loss. You gave it to me. You gave me a double life. I couldn't have endured with just one."
I'm proud of you and your double life."
All I regret", she said, crying again, crying with him, the two of them in tears..."is that we couldn't sleep together too many nights. To commingle with you. Commingle?"
Why not."
I wish tonight you could spend the night."
I do, too. But I'll be here tomorrow night."
I meant it up at the Grotto. I didn't want to fuck any more men even without the cancer. I wouldn't do that even if I was alive."
You are alive. It is here and now. It's tonight. You're alive."
I wouldn't do it. You're the one I always loved fucking. But I don't regret that I have fucked many. It would have been a great loss to have had otherwise. Some of them, they were sort of wasted times. You must have that, too. Haven't you? With women you didn't enjoy?"
Yes."
Yes, I had experiences where the men would just want to fuck you whether they cared about you or not. That was always harder for me. I give my heart, I give my self, in my fucking."
You do indeed."

And then, after just a little drifting, she fell asleep and so he went home - "I'm leaving now" - and within two hours she threw a clot and was dead.
So those were her last words, in English anyway. I give my heart, I give my self, in my fucking. Hard to top that.
To commingle with you, Drenka, to commingle with you now.”
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“Either foreswear fucking others or the affair is over.” 9 likes
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