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Sabbath's Theater

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  8,470 ratings  ·  637 reviews
Winner of the National Book Award for Fiction

Sabbath's Theater is a comic creation of epic proportions, and Mickey Sabbath is its gargantuan hero. At sixty-four Sabbath is still defiantly antagonistic and exceedingly libidinous; sex is an obsession and a principle, an instrument of perpetual misrule in his daily existence. But after the death of his long-time mistress - an
Paperback, 451 pages
Published August 6th 1996 by Vintage (first published 1995)
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Average rating 3.85  · 
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 ·  8,470 ratings  ·  637 reviews

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Michael Finocchiaro
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 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 girls 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 Manos Take Five, he has a ...more
David Schaafsma
Jul 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
"My manner of thinking, so you say, cannot be approved. Do you suppose I care? A poor fool indeed is he who adopts a manner of thinking for others!"Marquis de Sade

Reading Roths 1995 National Book Award-winning novel is not easy. At a little more than a year anniversary from his 2018 death, I took a look at all my higher-rated Roth books, now concluding with his last great book, his personal favorite of all his books, but not the personal favorite of all his readers. And now I re-evaluate the
Paul Bryant
Sep 25, 2007 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 ...more
Dec 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
I storm and I roar, and I fall in a twist,
And missing my whore, I bugger my fist.

Grieving, Suicidal Puppeteer and Master Manipulator of Women

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 encounters of the
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
Andrew Smith
Apr 01, 2014 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 despite this I did enjoy some of the early episodes and found some parts hugely amusing. This, however, was not enough to sustain my interest long enough to survive an incomprehensible section ...more
Jul 21, 2007 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
Jennifer Spiegel
Apr 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
Okay, now I get it. Now I get the whole Philip Roth thingbook prize judges quitting in protest over him, the sheer volume of those praising and condemning him, even what Ive called elsewhere absurdthe 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, Pray,
Steven Godin
May 13, 2015 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 ...more
Oct 02, 2019 rated it liked it
How could he kill himself now that he had Mortys things? Something always came along to make you keep living, goddamnit.


Well it is Philip Roth and he can turn a phrase better than anybody. So my mediocre rating shouldnt act to discourage anyone from reading this 1995 National Book Award winner.

However, the sex-crazed 64 year old Sabbath is not a likable protagonist in anyones worldview. Much of the focus is on crude descriptions of his thoughts and escapades. When his long time lover
Dec 24, 2007 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
Jan 15, 2014 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.
Jul 11, 2015 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 ...more
Matthew McCarthy
Jun 27, 2010 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
Jun 20, 2007 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 ...more
May 07, 2013 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
May 11, 2019 rated it liked it
I hope this is the last and most explicit of Roths creations, for I dont think I can take any more. Portnoy is a boy scout romp compared to this book which is a dark celebration of the life force embodied in the sexual drive.

Mickey Sabbath is a 64 year old ex-puppeteer, unemployed and broke, yet virile as ever, grieving the death of his lifelong lover Drenka who had an insatiable sexual appetite, one stoked by Mickey and unleashed upon the world until it consumed her and left him bereft. Sabbath
Cathal Kenneally
Mar 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Perverse and falling in places. This book is not for the faint hearted. Very descriptive passages about sex, masturbation and melancholic overtones from the main character. I think Molly Bloom from Joyce's Ulysses may have been in mind while writing this book. I think James Joyce would love to have read this. It has a certain shock factor for people who don't normally read this sort of thing.
In general Philip Roth is a writer with a controversial reputation, - you like him or you dont -, and thats 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 'Sabbaths 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 so ...more
Lee Davis
May 02, 2013 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
Robert Wechsler
I made a good choice in memorializing Philip Roths death with a re-read of Sabbaths Theater. This novel marks the summit of Roths use of the resources of the English language, especially of rhythm, before turning to a more measured approach. This novel is worth reading just for its lists. No one does lists better than Roth, and he does them best in Sabbaths Theater. A few of them should be pulled out and taught to creative writing students, because they contain all the elements of prose rhythm ...more
Nov 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Sabbaths 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 youve been reading four or five books and not just one. Its a truly breathtaking read. It is Roths prose at its most dense. Its 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 the work
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
Read By RodKelly
Oct 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Woah...this was majorly brilliant 😳😳😳
Oct 25, 2012 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
Jason Pettus
Ever since I shut down my arts center's blog at the beginning of the year, and so no longer need to review three contemporary novels a week there in order to generate content for it, I've been embarking on a project that I've been starting to call "The Great Completist Challenge of 2018," in which I'm going back to older authors I haven't read very much of before, with the intention of reading every book they've ever written. Being the obsessive that I am, I keep adding to the challenge before ...more
Cymru Roberts
Good morning, DNF America, this is R00ny, aka Percevald Posthumous, come to argue with the echoless void of the internet.

I wasn't the biggest Roth fan before this book, but I'd heard from a couple of peopleartists, critics, whose opinions I respect (and it's funny, isn't it, that one can respect an opinion, and not necessarily agree with it...ain't it? Or no? That isn't possible?)who said that Sabbath's Theater was their favorite book of his.

So I stopped, and said... maybe there's something to
Jun 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
Perhaps its not the right thing to do, but its unavoidable that Ill end up comparing the book Im reading to the one Ive 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 Sabbaths 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 parties as the ...more
Sep 14, 2016 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
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Philip Milton Roth was 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 ...more

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“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.” 12 likes
“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.”
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