Misha's Reviews > Portnoy's Complaint

Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth
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Dec 19, 09

bookshelves: 2009, novel, dirtydirtydirty
Read in December, 2009

** spoiler alert ** I've got about 20 pages to go on this, but just finished watching the tail end of an episode of Half & Half over brunch and it sort of dove-tailed with some vague thoughts I've had about sexual deviancy (and representations thereof) while reading Portnoy's Complaint. In the TV show, a girl is dating a guy she really likes, thinks she might have a future with, until she learns he has a foot fetish. Then she unceremoniously dumps him and hops around saying "Ew!" for the last couple of minutes of the show. My reaction is, "How vanilla do you have to be to get that freaked out by someone who likes to fondle feet? Work it for the foot rubs, you idiot!"

I used to have the same kinds of thoughts while watching Sex and the City, wherein Carrie Bradshaw was supposed to be the vanguard of all things sexual in that modern-day Gomorrah, New York, and yet was perplexed by things like dating a guy who was bisexual. I'll grant I might be a little thrown off by a guy who was into golden showers (another SatC episode), but bisexuality? Not even remotely deviant, or shouldn't be to a sophisticated New Yorker.

Same with BDSM. I don't get why people make such a big deal out of some people getting off on being tied down and spanked. You're not into it? Don't do it.

Maybe it's just that I'm excessively liberal in my sexual philosophy, but I find it rather absurd the things that are considered deviant in our sex-obsessed, yet sex-repressed, current American culture. Jacking off? It'd be deviant not to.

So I'm finding it interesting to read this book, which is a great representation of America's attitude toward sex. It was written in the mid-1960s when the Sexual Revolution was being waged (But was it ever won? I think that's arguable), and I think Roth probably captured a lot of pent-up sexual energy that most of America was feeling. He put everyone's dirty little thoughts and secrets into words along with the guilt imposed on them by the mother of all mothers, American Society. How much has all of that changed? Not much if even the parts of our culture that are supposed to represent sexual liberation (e.g. Sex in the City) haven't embraced anything close to the full spectrum of human sexuality.

When it comes down to it, Portnoy's deviance ain't all that deviant. I will give Roth the liver, particularly the family eating it afterward. That was one of my few "Ew!" moments while reading.

***

Now having finished, I liked the book a lot despite finding Alexander Portnoy a thoroughly unlikeable, self-involved, misanthropic character. The family stuff became repetitive and I thought the best bits were Portnoy's accounts of his relationship with The Monkey.
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message 1: by R. (new) - rated it 4 stars

R. I thought the punchline was great.


Misha Agreed.


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