Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sabbath's Theater is easily the filthiest book I've read - Alexander Portnoy would be shocked at some of the goings-on, I'm sure - but, oddly, maybe one of the best? Asking myself why, I suspect it's because the book feels true to itself, and possesses that elusive sense of internal logic. As lechers go, Mickey Sabbath manages to be entertaining in his shame-free defense of his ways, and self-aware enough to come across as a genuine human being, one who has carefully considered all options and concluded that his chosen path is the right one. Which is more than you can say for most of us. And, of course, there's the fact that it's compellingly written. Maybe any subject can capture one's attention given a sufficiently talented writer. The yearning to peek into another life and see what drives other people is probably innate, and when a book gets things just right, we not only get to see but to live that counterlife. God bless the novel for allowing us to experience a multitude of such lives within this corporeal one. Does any other form offer such amazing possibilities? (That isn't a very insightful question, but I'll answer "No" anyway. )

Portnoy's Complaint is Sabbath's natural cousin, and while I may be retrofitting, I think one can feel that book's adolescence. By contrast, Sabbath feels mature, grown-up even if screwed-up. I suspected it very strongly with Exit Ghost, felt it corroborated by everything but the final scenes of The Plot Against America, but now it's confirmed that Roth is a masterclass.