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Sabbath's Theater

3.83  ·  Rating Details  ·  5,826 Ratings  ·  412 Reviews
He is relentlessly defiant. He is exceedingly libidinous. His appetite for the outrageous is insatiable. He is Mickey Sabbath, the aging, raging powerhouse whose savage effrontery and mocking audacity are at the heart of Philip Roth's astonishing new novel. Sabbath's Theater tells Mickey's story in the wake of the death of his mistress, an erotic free spirit whose adultero ...more
Hardcover, 451 pages
Published December 31st 1995 by Houghton Mifflin (first published 1995)
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MJ Nicholls
Oct 01, 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
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 24, 2007 Kirk rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 29, 2007 Bart rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Andrew Smith
Mar 06, 2015 Andrew Smith rated it did not like it
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
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
Jun 22, 2007 Joeji rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Paul Bryant
Jul 13, 2011 Paul Bryant rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Jennifer Spiegel
May 13, 2013 Jennifer Spiegel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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,
Jul 12, 2015 [P] rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 01, 2016 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 21, 2014 William1 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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 08, 2013 Gonzo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Jul 18, 2013 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
Apr 03, 2016 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
Lee Davis
May 02, 2013 Lee Davis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
"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
Oct 08, 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 11, 2015 F.R. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Aug 12, 2010 Pavel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 05, 2008 Steven rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 10, 2008 Jim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Bryan Kelly
Dec 24, 2007 Bryan Kelly rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Silvia Iaia
Sep 30, 2015 Silvia Iaia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Un romanzo ineguagliabile per i sentimenti così diversi e contrastanti che mi ha suscitato: disgusto, commozione, ripugnanza, riflessione, divertimento, stupore, oscenità, tenerezza.
Aldilà di ogni forma di perbenismo e puritanesimo, è una storia profonda e geniale nel suo spirito cinico, dissacrante e spregiudicata. Roth si conferma fra i miei autori del cuore.
Jul 19, 2014 Jeremy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 02, 2012 Rusty rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 28, 2010 Jafar rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 23, 2015 Marcie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Apparently this is Roth's favorite among all he's written; I've been meaning to read it for a while now. Often funny, the book is relentlessly confrontational and vitriolic in exploring how one man's life is his art, and vice-versa. Given how repugnant that life is, and how often Sabbath as a character subverts readers' sympathies, I suppose Roth is asserting that art must continue, uncensored, regardless of the world's response to it. There's also a lot in it about eros as a life force, etc., e ...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.” 10 likes
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