Roth, Philip (Vol. 2)

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Last Updated on May 18, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3440

Roth, Philip 1933–

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An American novelist and short story writer, Roth is the author of Portnoy's Complaint, The Breast, and The Great American Novel. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)

[While] the American-Jewish novelist has … had a subject,… he has been searching diligently, questing imaginatively, [but] he has lacked an ideal form. Now, with "Portnoy's Complaint," Philip Roth ("Goodbye Columbus," "Letting Go," "When She Was Good") has finally come up with the existentially quintessential form for any American-Jewish tale bearing—or baring—guilt. He has done so by simply but brilliantly casting his American Jewish hero—so obviously long in need of therapy—upon a psychoanalyst's couch (the current American-Jewish equivalent of the confessional box) and one of those bullseye hits in the ever-darkening field of humor, a novel that is playfully and painfully moving, but also a work that is certainly catholic in appeal, potentially monumental in effect—and, perhaps more important, a deliciously funny book, absurd and exuberant, wild and uproarious….

If viewed as the apotheosis of a genre, the culmination of a fictional quest—and it is, I think … the very novel that every American-Jewish writer has been trying to write in one guise or another since the end of World War II—then it may very well be what is called a masterpiece—but so what? It could still also be nothing more than a cul-de-sac….

[Whether it is] a deadend auto-da-fé or open-end bar mitzvah peroration … on the road to cultural manhood—read "Portnoy's Complaint." And don't feel the least bit guilty about enjoying it thoroughly: I know not since "Catcher in the Rye" have I read an American novel with such pleasure.

Josh Greenfield, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1969 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), February 23, 1969, pp. 1-2.

Philip Roth is a skilled practitioner of literary acupuncture. Jewish mothers, Midwestern emasculators, the nouveau riche—he has pierced them all with his sharp-edged fiction. The target of Roth's latest shaft [Our Gang] is no one less than President Richard Milhous Nixon himself and the curious coterie that surrounds him….

A writer with Roth's comic gifts can't but produce some outrageously hilarious moments…. But Roth is only partly successful for, while his aim is true, his satire isn't Swift. Occasionally his anger gets the best of him and his humor sours. In fact, Nixon's rough treatment at Roth's hands may very well invite more sympathy for him than anything since the Checkers speech.

Arthur Cooper, in Saturday Review (copyright © 1971 by Saturday Review; first appeared in Saturday Review, November 6, 1971; used with permission), November 6, 1971, p. 53.

Political speech, Orwell wrote, is "largely the defense of the indefensible" and political language consists of "euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness." These grim deductions, more than the vagaries of the Nixon Administration, are the real subject of Philip Roth's "Our Gang," perhaps the funniest and most complex exercise in sustained political satire since "Animal Farm."…

The absurdity of Roth's fabricated situations conceals a legitimate target: the tendency of our governments to hold truth and decency in contempt. It is tempting to take "Our Gang" very seriously indeed, but it is, finally a very funny book, funny in the way that Dryden, Swift and Pope were funny. The point of such a satirical assault is that it must be outrageous, must be overdone, even if in the process a joke or two is trampled to death. Even Roth's use of crudely derogatory names for his characters echoes a great tradition: in his satirical poem "MacFlecknoe," Dryden called his rival, the poet Shad-well, "Sh—" as in "But loads of Sh—almost choakt the way."

"Our Gang"...

(The entire section contains 3440 words.)

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