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Sabbath's Theater

3.84  ·  Rating Details ·  6,349 Ratings  ·  446 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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Yes, Mickey Sabbath is a pretty revolting person. And yes, this book goes right to the edge in sexual perversion (some would say over the edge). But. But. But, isn't Mickey's displaced mourning for his mother, his brother, his first wife and his longtime lover and last true love - isn't he just an exaggerated version of our own egos (obviously speaking to males in the audience but perhaps the fantasies of Mickey's women also strike a nerve for female readers?)?
There are passages of great beauty
MJ Nicholls
Sep 29, 2012 MJ Nicholls rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels, merkins
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
Paul Bryant
Sep 25, 2007 Paul Bryant rated it it was ok
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 certain particular person (I will refer to th ...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
Dec 17, 2016 Perry rated it really liked it
Grieving, Suicidal Puppeteer and Master MANipulator of Women

"The Origin of the Milky Way,"
by Renaissance master Jacopo Tintoretto, 1575-1580

Fair warning: Swaths of this 1995 National Book Award winner pulsate with the prurient, the pornographic ponderings of Philip Roth, who vaunts his venery as a sex-tagenarian, plunging into the piercing tale of Mickey Sabbath, a 64-year-old primal puppeteer (-retired) with a penchant for prostitutes and loose women, bawdy bopping, and, generally, close encou
Jul 21, 2007 Bart rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 24, 2007 Kirk rated it it was ok
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
Andrew Smith
Apr 01, 2014 Andrew Smith rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: not-finished
I really wanted to like this book. I'm a fan of Roth's work and I'm used to his ranting style and the way he unfolds a story, so I stuck with it for quite a time (about half the book). But in the end it wore me down. I intensely disliked Mickey Sabbath from the start (well, I guess you're supposed to) but I did enjoy some of the early episodes and found some parts amusing. This, however, was not enough to sustain my interest long enough to survive an incomprehensible section, where he returns to ...more
Matthew McCarthy
Jun 27, 2010 Matthew McCarthy rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 11, 2015 [P] rated it really liked it
Philip Milton Roth is the one author, more than any other, who has been accused consistently of objectifying women, of misogyny, of pornography. His critics claim that he is guilty of creating female characters who exist solely as sex objects. While I have not read his entire oeuvre, in terms of what I have read I think this is bogus, that his female characters are not empty vessels [they have jobs, have opinions, have forceful personalities etc]. In any case, I believe that sexism is levelled a ...more
Jennifer Spiegel
Apr 28, 2013 Jennifer Spiegel rated it really liked it
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,
Jun 20, 2007 Joeji rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: People who find literary sexual jokes funny, aging puppeteers
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
Steven  Godin
May 13, 2015 Steven Godin rated it it was amazing
This is Roth's masterpiece and one of the best books I have read, morbidly funny, disturbing ,and at times deeply touching, Mickey Sabbath is one hell of a creation and has the behaviour of a complete perverted lunatic one minute and a caring, tender and quite sad person the next. Told in flashback sequences and the present day, mainly focusing on his troubled relationship with both wife and mistress, with moments from his days as a puppeteer in New York. What grabs me is how things can be prett ...more
Jul 12, 2015 Gabriele rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
— Non è mai stato facile capire cosa sei veramente, Mickey.
— Oh, diciamo un fallito, eh?
— Ma in cosa?
— Un fallito in fallimenti.

La domanda è: cos'è esattamente il teatro di Sabbath? Ma anche: chi è veramente Mickey Sabbath?

Sabbath è un burattinaio, il teatro il mezzo tramite cui esibirsi. Ma il teatro per Sabbath non rappresenta unicamente il suo lavoro, perché il vero teatro di Sabbath è tutto il mondo che lo circonda, il più grande palcoscenico su cui questo sessantaquattrenne può mettere in s
Jan 15, 2014 William1 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction, us, 20-ce, do-not-own
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.
May 07, 2013 Gonzo rated it it was amazing
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
Lee Davis
May 02, 2013 Lee Davis rated it really liked it
Shelves: novels, fiction
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
In general Philip Roth is a writer with a controversial reputation, - you like him or you don’t -, and that’s certainly so for this book, - as you can notice in reading the reviews on this site. Apparently this has everything to do with the very pornographic content of 'Sabbath’s Theatre'. I am not going to start a semantic discussion on what is pornographic and what just is explicit writing more or less functional to the story; I suspect that Roth himself scrupulously opted for the former, and ...more
Nov 30, 2012 Amin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
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
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
Oct 25, 2012 WordsBeyondBorders rated it really liked it
"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
May 11, 2014 Aprile rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
479 pagine di capriole a luci rosse di un erotomane, ma a dar soddisfazione
è la scrittura di Roth - lui sì che non perde un colpo -, la sua capacità di racchiudere in una struttura organizzata l’infinità di cose raccontate, di creare persone fra le pagine, di raccontare la loro storia, i loro umori, rabbie, dolori, passioni, il tutto calato nel contesto in cui vivono. E’ una scrittura precisa e dettagliata che affascina la mente e mira al cuore, anche se qui le parti descritte sono altre. Questo
Sep 02, 2012 Sandra rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: usa
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
Jun 05, 2012 F.R. rated it really liked it
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
Dec 06, 2015 Conor rated it it was ok
Shelves: suburban-hell, jewish
The first Roth I ever read was "American Pastoral" which is truly an accomplishment. I took to picking up "The Human Stain" whenever I was at my dad's house, but Hurricane Sandy put an end to that. For some reason this was the next Roth book that I bought, and which I resolved to finish.

It's a bit shocking that Pastoral followed this, because the books could not be any more different. To the same degree that Pastoral is a masterwork of evocative pathos, this book seems like a challenge Roth mad
Aug 12, 2010 Pavel rated it liked it
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
Brian Calandra
Dec 27, 2010 Brian Calandra rated it liked it
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
Sep 14, 2016 Bob rated it really liked it
To "just be grossly generalistic", it often seems that all of Roth's main characters are Jewish men, born around 1930 and raised in New Jersey. Upon discovering sex as adolescents, it remains the obsessively dominant force of their entire lives, far overshadowing whatever else they actually do, typically writing. We meet them at [insert Roth's age here], contemplating their mortality, and aggressively, self-destructively, pursuing every woman they meet.
Mickey Sabbath is introduced as having garn
Apr 05, 2008 Steven rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novels
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
May 30, 2013 Jeremy rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-fiction
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
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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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“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, 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.”
“As for himself, however hateful life was, it was hateful in a home and not in the gutter. Many Americans hated their homes. The number of homeless in America couldn't touch the number of Americans who had homes and families and hated the whole thing.” 11 likes
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