In his 1995 novel Sabbath's Theater, Philip Roth once again demonstrates that he has few (if any) equals among modern novelists when it comes to the ability to morph profanity into profundity, and, in this work, he does it in such an apparently effortless manner which leaves this reader mightily impressed. In my recollection, not since the days of Henry Miller 60 years ago has a writer produced such an exhilarating and unexpurgated tale of debauchery as does Roth in this magnificent and explosive work. In Roth, we are, of course, talking about the author who achieved global literary notoriety with his similarly extravagant and sexually explicit 1969 novel Portnoy's Complaint - a compelling novel in its own right, but one which, for me, Roth has probably surpassed with Sabbath's Theater.
The novel is narrated in flashback by 64-year old ex-puppeteer and (still) sex-obsessed Mickey Sabbath, and takes us (in loving detail) through the fractious and turbulent journey of Sabbath's various lives and loves. Roth is typically uncompromising in creating what is essentially a loathsome hero, one who has embarked on a succession of adulterous relationships, whilst spurning two marriages and apparently betraying just about every friendship that ever came the way of anti-hero Sabbath. But, gradually as the tale unfolds, it becomes apparent that there are facets to this abomination that are not wholly repugnant, none more than Sabbath's underlying maternal love and his hero-worship for his soldier brother Morty, sadly lost fighting the Japanese in 1944 whilst Mickey was still only a teenager.
The concluding sections of the novel, where Mickey negotiates potential sites for his own burial plot and where he happens upon a lost centenarian cousin, thereby finding another route for communicating with the memories of his long-lost brother, are particularly affecting and poignant.