Saturday, July 18, 2009

139. Sabbath’s Theater – Philip Roth

History: Published in 1995. Roth modeled his protagonist on the American Jewish painter R.B. Kitaj.
Plot: Sabbath is an unproductive, out-of-work, former puppeteer with a strong affinity for whores, adultery, and the casual sexual encounter. Sabbath takes great pleasure in his status as the (prototypical) "dirty old man." He takes an equal pleasure in manipulating the people around him, primarily women—in a sense, they play the same role as his puppets. The loss of a decades-long sexual sidekick—the equally adulterous Drenka—precipitates a crisis in a life he has long considered an utter failure. Sabbath wonders whether he should simply take his own life, thereby heeding the advice of the ghost of his departed mother, a frequent visitor who urges suicide as the fitting end for his failed life.
Review: This was a challenging book. Many times I put it down when it was just too hard and too wordy to read. Roth, like the absolutely reprehensible protagonist in the book, Mickey Sabbath, was challenging me to put the book down. He wanted me to say it was too hard and give up. I persevered. Sabbath is such an unlikeable character - everything he says or does throughout the book is intended to cause pain to the people around him.
He is a twisted old man with an obsession for sex and goes to the point of shutting out or offending pretty much everyone in his life that ever cared about him. Roth uses the nice little stylistic trick of switching from first to third person about half way through the book, pretty much at the point in which you realise Sabbath is slowly losing his mind.
In the end, he ends up with nothing, and while I was expecting a slightly more spectacular ending, in hindsight I thought it was pretty appropriate considering his escapades over the course of the novel.
Opening Line: “Either forswear fucking others or the affair is over.”
Closing Line: “And he couldn’t do it. He could not fucking die. How could he leave? How could he go? Everything he hated was here.”
Quotes: “I’m just gunna, like, you’re gunna think I’m a nymphomaniac and I’m not. I don’t… whatever… like, I’m not out having sex. I don’t know.”
Rating: Poor

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