Malbadeen's Reviews > Portnoy's Complaint

Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth
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really liked it
bookshelves: confused-or-informed-my-sexuality
Recommended to Malbadeen by: Sarah (what a perv)
Recommended for: Sarah's other pervey friends

It's recently been brought to my attention that my book reviews frequently are not actually about the book. And I'm wondering why would you want to know about the book when all you have to do is click on the little blurb about the book and then get on with the fascinating reading about...oh, say where I bought my milk last Tuesday or my fondest/most traumatic childhood memory, etc, etc.
And, yet. I aim to please so here is my sincere attempt to tell you something about this book. It (the book) goes something like this:
moms fault
moms fault
moms fault
kinda dads fault too
mostly moms fault
self loathing
Jewish loathing
protestant loathing
protestant awe
more jewish loathing
again with the Protestant loathing
partial reconciliation with perceptions of all things Jewish
attempt at sex
failure at sex
mom's fault

Now that I've, no doubt drawn you into the plot line and compelled you to pick up the book for yourself, let me share with you some of my personal thoughts on the book.
Growing up conservative/fundamentalist(?) Christian, I am no stranger to guilt. As a matter of fact some times I feel that Catholics and Jewish people think they have the market cornered on guilt, well, you know what? taint so. I got some pretty messed up voices going on in my head too, ya know. And maybe I can't articulate my guilt trips into clever phrases or pinpoint experiences but I can tell you that guilt taught me a thing or two.

1. If I don't pick up that clutter someone else is going to have to. When I was younger this meant my mom, whom after setting aside her career as an artist to raise 5 kids and nearly had (maybe did have at one point) a nervous breakdown from the lack of money, the accumulation of clutter and my argumentative nature. In my adult life this means the custodian, whom after leaving Vietnam as an educated person has to toil with 2 and sometimes 3 jobs to send his son (and seemingly only hope at respectability in this career driven society of ours) to college.

2. Flour is not cheap and ingredients are not to be wasted! oh, the shame, the shame of ruining yet ANOTHER batch of gingerbread men.

3. pre-marital sex is BAD. BAD! BAD! BAD! Offering yourself as anything less than a virgin to your someday husband is tantamount to giving someone a big bag of steaming compost with worms crawling through it for their birthday. The only thing worse than pre-marital sex is being gay.
*it might be worth noting here that there was some guilt reprieve and gargantuan amounts of titillating conversation regarding what exactly you COULD do, short of having sex but even that was fraught with the anxiety of "accidentally" having sex. and I"m still a little hazy on whether or not I can participate in oral sex. I'm assuming it's a no go, while (okay Catholics and Jewish people, I have to admit I've got it easier here) masturbating is okay AS LONG AS one doesn't start fantasizing about others while masturbating. Which you gotta hand it to them (wa-ha-ha) is that not the purest form of masturbation?

4. Paper is meant to be used and re-used and re-used and re-used and re-used. Buying new paper is an intolerable opulence reserved for gluttonous pigs and ONLY gluttonous pigs.
etc, etc, etc,

so, did I find Portnoy's excessive guilt to be unreasonable or unreadable, not at all. I found it to be hilarious in it's familiarity. Matter of fact I found most of the book to be hilarious, which I hadn't anticipated. Some passages that I found particularly amusing are as follows:

-when he ate pudding he shouldn't have, "Well, good Christ, how was I supposed to know all that, Hanna? Who looks into the fine points when he's hungry? I'm eight years old and chocolate pudding happens to get me hot.

-Talking to his "doctor", "All I do is complain, the repugnance seems, bottomless, and I'm beginning to wonder if maybe enough isn't enough. I hear myself indulging in the kind of ritualized bellyaching that is just what gives psychoanalytic patients such a bad name with the general public"

-a child hood sexual fantasy, "Her favorite line of prose is a masterpiece, 'Fuck my pussy, Fuckface, till I faint.' when I fart in the bathtub, she kneels naked on the tile floor, leans all the way over, and kisses the bubbles."

-While observing "goys" at the skating rink, "Jesus, look how guiltlessly they eat between meals! what girls!"

-about a non Jewish girlfriend, ".....played polo (yes, a games form on top of a horse!)

But humor aside, I also appreciated some other aspects of the story. I loved the line, "What I'm saying, Doctor, is that I don't seem to stick my dick up these girls, as much as I stick it up their backgrounds-as though through fucking I will discover America". I remember standing alone in NYC (coming from a small town in Oregon) at age 17 and seeing the enormous variety of people and thinking how great it would be to be with the deaf man, the black man, the man in a wheel chair, the businessman, etc,etc,etc. Thinking how much I would KNOW if I could be with all of them (not simultaneously - gross! and not to worry, mom-should you come across this- I wasn't thinking sleep with them, just dates ya know, just some museums trips and a dinner here or there. okay maybe some light petting too, but really that's as far as that fantasy went). In the end I didn't broaden my horizons that way, I ended up dating one guy. One very nice Jewish boy. But still, I like the idea.

And finally I'd like to say that I think I damn near cried at one point near the end and yes, I did also nearly cry this week when I saw a mud flap of that silhouetted naked lady because I so hate the "ideal" that society feels so comfortable imposing on us less than "perfect" females, and I was a little chocked up when my son said, "I like having you for a mom", and all of this near teary-ness might indicate a certain hormonal fluctuation orrrrrrrrr it might indicate that I'm a sensitive genius? consider. Regardless, I felt sorry for the pathetic schlep at one point.

And thus concludes my thorough look at Portnoy's complaints plot points as well as the ubiquitous ME, ME, ME portion of my review.
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Reading Progress

August 28, 2007 – Shelved
Started Reading
July 1, 2009 – Finished Reading
July 14, 2009 –
page 180
65.69% "what?! It's funny?! I didn't know it was going to be so freakin funny!"
July 22, 2009 – Shelved as: confused-or-informed-my-sexuality

Comments Showing 1-50 of 50 (50 new)

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message 1: by Eric_W (new)

Eric_W Terrific review.

message 2: by Jen (new)

Jen Did you also feel guilty if you fell asleep before finishing bedtime prayers? I did. And I would always say a prayer with a line like this "forgive me for all the things that I want to confess and would gladly confess but can't remember I did anymore"

And I missed people telling me that masturbation was okay! Maybe Baptists had a different handbook or something- with them it was always "pretend you have on a bikini and nothing under that bikini should be touched- by anyone- not even yourself!" It made wiping your ass preeeety hard unless you wore a string bikini.

message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

Was mostly bored by this book -- but not by this review. Especially not by: Offering yourself as anything less than a virgin to your someday husband is tantamount to giving someone a big bag of steaming compost with worms crawling through it for their birthday.

message 4: by Anthony (new)

Anthony Buckley The review is terrific. Like David, however, I didn't really connect with the book. I thought it funny, but not about real people. Apparently, I was wrong!

I blame my parents. The Church of England (in which I was brought up) didn't really go in for guilt.

message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

Lutherans don't do that whole guilt thing. It was awesome.

Chris I like both the book and this review!

David When I look back on my life to date, it is abundantly clear that anything I have managed to achieve was motivated either by guilt or the desire to score against my enemies. Let's not be too down on the whole guilt thing. Without it, some of us would barely get out of bed in the morning.

message 8: by Jen (new)

Jen or buy the dolphin free tuna.

message 9: by [deleted user] (last edited Jul 22, 2009 01:14PM) (new)

Marie is a Guilt Monster. That's what I call her. She feels bad for all the world's transgressions. But not so bad about the pre-marital sex, ironically enough.

message 10: by Ben (last edited Jul 22, 2009 01:25PM) (new)

Ben I feel terribly guilty about pre-marital sex. It's what motivates me to get out of bed in the morning.

message 11: by Stephen (new)

Stephen Awesome review. Really. You and David the Gothic Goth, wow, what a team.

message 12: by [deleted user] (new)

Team? Sorry. We're solo acts.

Malbadeen Jen, I happen to know for a fact that James Dobson believes in masturbation (how I know that will forever be my secret) perhapes you could find a baptist that would allow that to sway them.

Ben, I didn't know you youngins knew about guilt. good on you!

David, come on! I added something about the book, what more do you want?

message 14: by [deleted user] (last edited Jul 22, 2009 04:45PM) (new)

Marie, you know I would be Captain to your Tenille any freaking day of the week -- if only for the pleasure of wearing that nautical hat and an all-white double-breasted suit with gold anchor-embossed buttons -- but I fear that two dynamic, ultracool, incendiary forces like us would be dangerous if we banded together into one mega-awesome book reviewing force. It'd be a total McCartney-Lennon thing going on... or worse... George Michael and that other dude from Wham! that nobody remembers.

Edit: Oh, never mind. Your comment was directed at the other David. I hate all this mass Davidness. It's too damned much. David Me, David Him, David The Other, David Horowitz, David Hasselhoff, David the peeping-tom biblical dude. Enough already! I'd still be Captain to your Tenille though... if there are costumes involved.

message 15: by Dave (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dave Russell Lutherans don't do that whole guilt thing. It was awesome.

But you have so much to feel guilty about.

message 16: by Stephen (new)

Stephen David the Blue Eyed Captain. That should solve it. You would be a book reviewing force that could not be stopped.

message 17: by [deleted user] (new)

Dave wrote: "But you have so much to feel guilty about."

Isn't it great?

message 18: by Ben (last edited Jul 22, 2009 04:59PM) (new)

Ben Wrong, Stephen. In February Jessica made the decision that David's superhero name would be "The Grammarian."

Of course, maybe he can have more than one?

message 19: by [deleted user] (new)

Ben's superhero name is Cougar Catnip. Or so I've heard tell. (But hurry up and use the hell out of that name, Ben. You ain't gettin' any younger, you know.)

message 20: by [deleted user] (new)

Ben, I just got your postcard! Thanks!

message 21: by [deleted user] (new)

WHAT?!?! I didn't get a motherfucking postcard! Cougar Catnip, you're dead to me.


message 22: by Jen (new)

Jen Marie wrote: "Jen, I happen to know for a fact that James Dobson believes in masturbation (how I know that will forever be my secret) perhapes you could find a baptist that would allow that to sway them.

Ben, I..."

But Dobson isn't Baptist- and masturbation was never covered in Love Must Be Tough or The Strong Willed Child! :) I probably missed that Focus radio segment because their radio calendar had an asterisk by the topic- Mom wouldn't turn it on then. Crap. And to think I was stuck with the Pacific Garden Mission's "Unshackled!" instead (

But I do owe Dobson a big one- one of the clues that your kids were into drugs he listed as bent spoons. I was terrified my mom might think I was into them- oh the potential guilt!- so I ransacked the utensils and got rid of anything too crooked. Whew.

message 23: by Stephen (new)

Stephen And I didn't get a thanks for Blue Eyed Captain. Harumph. Fickle goths

message 24: by Ben (last edited Jul 22, 2009 05:34PM) (new)

Ben Cougar Catnip... I love that. Love it.

And, um, sorry about the post card. I'd offer to send you one from Lakeland, but unless you find something sexy about meth and redknecks, I think you're best waiting till I get out of here again....

Cougar Catnip. Man, that's great.

Jason Cook I was contemplating whether or not to read Portnoy, and I happened upon your review, Marie.

Now I have to read it, if only to experience the book that provoked such an entertaining review!

message 26: by Joao (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joao Pais Ahahaha loved the review.

message 27: by David (new)

David Vanness I prefer Rear Admiral Daniel V. Gallery's review

message 28: by Susan (new) - added it

Susan I completely agree that we ALL can read the book description from the editor...I don't want to hear a bunch of readers descriptions. I just want to know if you liked the book and why! I'm with you!

message 29: by Peter (last edited Aug 20, 2012 10:58PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Peter if roth had just written
mom's fault
I would have enjoyed the book much more and the dishes would have gotten washed.
Loved your review though

Libera I'm an x Catholic, x JW, current atheist , raised by a bigfat guilt ridden Italian family, loved the book but your review was a tiny bit better. Looking forward to finding more of your rants.

message 31: by Mardel (new)

Mardel Loved your review/essay. Funny as hell. Thanks for the laughs, and you made Portney's Complaint sound intersting, and I usually have no interest in reading much written before I was....40 years old. Older style of prose usually just irritates me, so I stick to the newer books. haha, your review was probably way more interesting than the book. ;)

message 32: by Nick (new)

Nick Wright Your critique of the novel was pathetic. Not too get too infuriated over a silly book review but your review was tantamount to saying,
"Lolita is a just a book about an old perv."
"Romeo and Juliet is just a boring play about another love story."
"Schindler's List is so slow. It's just about some Jews being kiled. Plus, it's black and white. Boring."
"Catcher in the Rye is an annoying kid complaining for 250 pages. He's really gets tiresome."

Not only are they oversimplifications of more complex, arcane works but they belittle and denigrate novels, books, and plays that have many more levels than you are giving them credit for.
For instance, did you realize that there were a significant amount of Freudian, Oedipal, and Jungian references?

Regardless, not liking a book is fine. Additionally, I can understand why you would take fault or issue with a book that is so unequivocal in it's critique of religion and sexual repression. These are contentious, disputatious topics; when you consider what Roth is saying about them in "Portnoy", they become even controversial, but to oversimplify and then dismiss "Portnoy" conclusively and unconditionally is a crime.
Oh, and "Moby Dick" is not just about a whale, either. Sorry to break your heart.

message 33: by Peter (new) - rated it 1 star

Peter Did you actually read the review Nick? Oh, I see you liked Tuesdays With Morrie. Nuff said.

Malbadeen Nick,
I feel as though you've "oversimplified" my "more complex, arcane" review and that by doing so you may have "belittled and denigrated" goodreaders everywhere.

nah. just kidding - it doesn't bother me that you don't like my review. And horror of horrors it also doesn't bother me if people think that,
Lolita is a just a book about an old perv."
"Romeo and Juliet is just a boring play about another love story."
"Schindler's List is so slow. It's just about some Jews being kiled. Plus, it's black and white. Boring."
"Catcher in the Rye is an annoying kid complaining for 250 pages. He's really gets tiresome."

But I do feel like I should point out that I didn't acutally "take fault or issue" with this book. I liked it. a lot. which is why I gave it four stars.

So let's all enjoy a slice of mango and remember that just like "'Moby Dick'" IS "just about a whale" to some people, Goodreads is just about a bunch of people slapping their opinions/connections/memories/thoughts on a website.

message 35: by Jason (new)

Jason Nick wrote: "Oh, and "Moby Dick" is not just about a whale, either. Sorry to break your heart."

It mostly is, though.

message 38: by Helmut (new) - added it

Helmut "It's recently been brought to my attention that my book reviews frequently are not actually about the book."

The best book reviews are about other things than the book. I just wanted to encourage you to write book reviews which don't just consist of summaries, but contain something about you!

message 39: by Eda (new) - rated it 4 stars

Eda "I found it to be hilarious in it's familiarity." couldn't agree more! :)

message 40: by Natasha (new) - added it

Natasha this review is so amazing :D

message 41: by Bill (new) - added it

Bill It is so long ago that we received this in a brown paper parcel from Mary Martin bookshop in Adelaide. I must have another look, I do remember a few laughs, and was pleased how Don Chip, the minister for Customs aloud some of us to read it, even buy it! 1-10-1970 date on my copy...

message 42: by Sarah (new)

Sarah I just read this, thought I was voting "liked" but actually unliked my vote from years ago. Then I liked it again.

Malbadeen What an emotional roller coaster that was!

Malbadeen What an emotional roller coaster that was!

Ananda Dhrubo You understood fucking nothing about the book. You just read it. Huh!

Malbadeen Imagine my embarrassment

message 47: by Sarah (new)

Sarah Please teach us, Ananda. We don't get it! Share your gift!!!

Chollie Very good look at this piece of 1960's 'neuvo'. Keep it up, Malbadeen!

Jessica Zoop I agree with you that plot descriptions are a waste of everyone's time since one can read that at the top of the page & I want to know YOUR review of the book. More proof of my not getting people.

message 50: by Ron (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ron Christiansen ME reviews are extensions rather than mere summaries. thanks.

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