This review is from: Sabbath's Theater (Paperback)
Perhaps literary critics in fifty years time will find it odd how the novels of the past one or two generations vested so much importance in sex - just as, say, property and marriage obsessed nineteenth-century British writers. Sabbath's Theater's primary interest is indeed in sex. Or rather sex and death, two subjects that sell well. (I feel entitled to write that as, in one of his novels, The Human Stain I think, Roth pokes fun at Kundera for drawing on sex and philosophy for appeal.) Sabbath, the novel's ageing hero is both uninhibited and free from convention. He is plain spoken to the point of inconsiderateness, boorishness even, making both for high comedy and curious situations - as when Sabbath attempts to seduce the wife of the friend who has just rescued him from destitution, all the time toying with their (adult) daughter's underwear. But was Sabbath's life lived to the full, free from the shackles of convention, or was it rather wasted? Did his hero brother do better to die at twenty after his plane crashed on a pacific island in WWII? As Sabbath begins to look for a cemetery spot and becomes ever more consumed by his family past, one begins to doubt. Sabbath was a puppeteer, leaving him to take all relationships as instrumental until it is too late. The risk is that he will find himself stranded on life's highway, his own strings at last cut off.
This may be unfair, but I tend to think of Philip Roth as a rip-off of (his precursor) Saul Bellow. They have much in common, including the ability to fascinate through the minute dissection of scenes and situation whatever they are, and they are both consistently entertaining. I have run out of Saul Bellow. If you have not, I highly recommend considering his works alongside Roth's.