Portnoy’s Complaint: Sophomoric, salacious, and insightful

all-text cover of Portnoy's Complaint
Complaint in plain wrapper.

Alexander Portnoy, Assistant Human Opportunity Commissioner for New York City, is a psychological mess, and it’s all his parent’s fault.

At least that’s what he tells his psychiatrist, Dr. Spielvogel, in Philip Roth’s aptly named Portnoy’s Complaint.

Alex suffers from stereotypes.

He’s the brilliant and personable only son of a New Jersey Jewish couple. Alex’s eighth-grade educated father slaves for a Protestant insurance company, selling life insurance in the black slums. His mother cooks, cleans, kvetches.

Alex grew up being alternately praised to the hilt and told he was a disgrace to his family.

At 33 he’s still unmarried. His professional life is devoted to doing good for others.

His nonprofessional life is devoted to activities discussed primarily in four-letter words.

Alex’s monologue mixes exaggeration with self-deprecation. His occasional flashes of insight are masked with jokes.

He tells his shrink, “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.”

Roth’s novel is genuinely funny, but as he lets Alex makes readers laugh, he makes them see how emotionally frail Alex is.

Roth’s technical skill and his humanity — plus the final punch line — combine to produce a hopeful portrait of a damaged man.

Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth
Random House, 1969. 274 p. 1969 bestseller #1 My grade: A


© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni


The Exhibitionist: The title reveals all

paperback copy of *The Exhibitionist* minus its front cover
The Exhibitionist lacks the decency to cover up.

My paperback copy of The Exhibitionist arrived minus a front cover.

That is what literary scholars call symbolism.

The Exhibitionist: A Novel by Henry Sutton
Fawcett Crest Book, 1968 [paper], 479 pp. 1967 bestseller #10. My grade: D-.

The Exhibitionist is a novel about film people who seem to spend most of their lives minus a front cover.

Or back cover.

The story begins in a small town in Montana, where a traveling salesman gets a young girl drunk, and seduces her.

Her father, himself the son of an unwed mother, brings her home where she bears a son, Amos Meredith Houseman.

When Amos is old enough, he is seduced by his high school drama teacher. Then Amos goes off to drama school, studies acting, and becomes film star Meredith Houseman.

Amos’s first wife, Elaine, has a child whom they name Meredith but call Merry.

Merry’s parents divorce, and each remarries.

Amos has several marriages, many liaisons.

Merry grows up anything but merry. She craves love and attention, but she’ll settle for attention.

Merry, too, goes into the film business.  She becomes a commercial success and a moral bankrupt.

Merry goes home to Montana to have her baby and “a new beginning.”

This depraved tale is rendered more reprehensible by the fact that  David R. Slavitt — Henry Sutton is a pseudonym —
can write.

Really write.

What a waste of talent.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni