Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Review: "Sabbath's Theater" by Philip Roth

The most frequent thought that I had while reading Philip Roth’s comic masterpiece wasn’t so much about the book itself, which I can say with great confidence is one of the funniest books I have read, but they tended to float to the overall topic of literary merit, and this awful divide that academics and snobs put up between what they judge as “quality” literature and “trash”. If this book proves anything, it is that the guidelines to get into this club are elitist in nature and are only created by insecure bookish people who care more about reputation than hard work and true literary pursuit. And the reason this came to me is because Roth’s book might be the funniest book I have read, but it is certainly the most filthy and disgusting. The actions and sex acts in this book easily put anything in an Apatow comedy to shame. The nearest cinematic comparison you can make to this book would have to be something from the early years of John Waters, in movies like Pink Flamingos or Desperate Living. But even though the filth is there in all its filthy glory, there is a lot of deep subtext to the actions in the book, especially the actions of the book’s main character, a person who trumps Coleman Silk in The Human Stain and the unnamed narrator of Everyman in both appetites, depravity and overall intriguing quality. That man is Mickey Sabbath, and at the beginning of the book, he has been given an ultimatum y his mistress Drenka: stop having sex with other people or you will not have sex with me. It is the first in a long line of sexual deviancy that culminates in some pretty wild scenarios thanks to Sabbath’s out of control libido. Soon after this, Drenka dies suddenly, and Sabbath, missing her insatiable hunger for sex that rivaled his, looks back over his life and sees nothing but romantic devastation of everyone he comes in contact with. All of this nostalgic pondering leads to some wild and disgusting scenes involving a time when Drenka slept with a man while she was on her period, an act of self love at her grave that is interrupted by Drenka’s son, and the almost suicidal need for Sabbath to find something in the room of his friends daughter to masturbate to. But all this does have a point I think. It presents a world, in this case, Sabbath’s, where people are judged according to their sexual prowess and proclivity. Sabbath’s feelings toward sex symbolize our own as a people who judge people on how much sex they have, and the more the better. Sabbath’s addiction, which is as self-destructive and fatalistic as Nicolas Cage’s in Leaving Las Vegas, has been used to manipulate those around him, much like he did to the puppets in his audacious theater productions. It ends up being both a theater of sexual criminality and a theater of Sabbath’s wasted life in pursuit of carnal needs, and with a grim ending implying an abyss of longing, Roth has crafted a modern tragedy anyone who has felt a slave to their desires will relate to.

Rating: 5/5

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