"Now this time don't flush. Do you hear me, Alex? I have to see what's in that bowl! " With those immortal words from "Portnoy's Complaint"...
“Now this time don’t flush. Do you hear me, Alex? I have to see what’s in that bowl!”
With those immortal words from “Portnoy’s Complaint” — along with 800,000 or so words from five other books — Philip Roth becomes the third author (after Eudora Welty and Saul Bellow) to enter the prestigious Library of America while still alive.
Roth may be No. 3, but for me this is a most peculiar first: seeing such grand treatment accorded to a book I secretly leafed through at age 15, eager for any bits it contained on the difficulties of the Life Onanistic.
Of course, there’s more to Roth than the maternal torments (“Open up, Alex”) inflicted on the horny young narrator of “Portnoy’s Complaint.” Two handsome volumes, “Philip Roth: Novels and Stories, 1959-1972” and “Philip Roth: Novels 1967-1972” (Library of America, $35 each) collect five other classic titles, including the bittersweet poor-boy-rich-girl story “Goodbye, Columbus,” Roth’s Nixon-era satire “Our Gang” and his Kafkaesque fantasy “The Breast.”
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There are plans for four more volumes over the next eight years, the final to coincide with Roth’s 80th birthday on March 19, 2013.
In the meantime … “Portnoy’s Complaint” … maybe it’s finally time to sit down and read the whole thing?
Michael Upchurch, Seattle Times book critic