Review Of Philip Roth's The Professor Of Desire
It was not until recently, looking ahead to this review, that I read Portnoy’s Complaint for the first time. I was glad I had waited. Even eight years later, I could still remember almost word for word passages quoted in the countless reviews; in the midst of the hoopla that surrounded its publication, it was almost impossible to give it a fair reading. What was shocking about Portnoy’s Complaint in its day was not just its treatment of masturbation, which until that time had been something of a taboo subject in fiction (since Portnoy, fictional characters have been allowed to masturbate openly and with abandon, which must be a relief to them), but also its tone: a distinguished author, a National Book Award winner, had delivered himself of a monologue that sounded more like the routine of a night club comedian, and a dirty one at that. Often ignored was that Portnoy ’s Complaint is a wonderfully constructed novel that treats serious themes. The narrator adopts his burlesque tone as a buffer for the enormous pain at the heart of his story. He delivers a searing statement of a personal problem that has not been resolved; once he had made his lament, as the psychiatrist suggests at the end, they are ready to begin.