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Publisher's Summary

National Book Award, Fiction, 1995

Once a scandalously inventive puppeteer, Mickey Sabbath at 64 is an aging, raging powerhouse, defiantly antagonistic and exceedingly libidinous. But after the death of his longtime mistress, Sabbath embarks on a turbulent journey into his past. Haunted by the ghosts of all the people who loved and hated him the most, Sabbath contrives a succession of farcical disasters that take him to the brink of madness and extinction. Acclaimed author Philip Roth is at the very peak of his creative powers in this bold and hilarious novel, a comic creation of epic proportions.
Copyright ©1995 by Philip Roth; Copyright (P)1995 by Dove Audio, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"This splendidly wicked book . . . is among the most remarkable novels in recent years. . . . The energy of the book is amazing.... Roth is hilariously serious about life and death." (The New York Review of Books)
"Roth's extraordinary new novel is an astonishment and a scourge, and one of the strangest achievements of fictional prose that I have ever read. . . . It is very exquisite." (New Republic)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

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Story

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  • Overall
  • Joshua
  • Lexington, VA, USA
  • 08-23-07

A great book by a great writer

Those with fragile sensibilities should look elsewhere, but make no mistake: this is Roth's masterpiece. Exhilarating, challenging, lyrical. Wonderfully performed as well.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Train Rex

Some of Roth's best writing, but almost impossible to get through because of Mickey Sabbath's determination to live life as frivolously and libidinously as humanly possible. In fact,the sheer inventiveness of Sabbath's (and Roth's) debauchery is almost superhuman or perhaps inhuman, as if he were the embodiment of a force of nature, a Pan or a Puck. Oddly, I found the book extremely depressing when reading to myself and hilarious when I read portions out loud to a friend. Overall, I'm glad I read it, but getting inside the head of Mickey Sabbath was an uncomfortable experience.

15 of 19 people found this review helpful

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Modern Masterpiece by a Spectacular Writer

First, I am a fan of Roth, have read a number of his books and look forward to reading more. Roth was denied the Nobel again in 2014. While reading/listening to this book I felt I better understood why he will likely never win. Nobel's will provides that the prize be given for outstanding work in "an ideal direction". Brilliant as Roth is, there is nothing "ideal" about his work in general or about Sabbath's Theatre in particular. Roth is anti ideal. The antithesis of idealism. He will not uplift your spirit or get you to feel better about what it is to be human. His gaze is unflinchingly honest and his eloquence unsurpassed. Sabbath's Theatre is a high water mark of a great writer in full flight. It is dark. It is challenging. It is graphically sexual (many will find it pornographic). It is depressing. It is also laugh out loud, set the book down, hilarious. It is quite a strong stew. What is Sabbath's Theatre about? It is about loss, how integral to life loss is, and the spiritual consequences of loss. David Dukes narration is pitch perfect.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Suicidal Puppeteer; Master MANipulator of Women


Fair warning: Swaths of this 1995 National Book Award winner pulsate with the prurient, the pornographic ponderings of Philip Roth, who vaunts his venery as a sextagenarian, plunging into the piercing tale of Mickey Sabbath, a 64-year-old primal puppeteer (-retired) with a penchant for prostitutes and loose women, bawdy bopping, and, generally, close encounters of the lewd kind. Sabbath delights in being labeled a "dirty old man," and the book flashes between legion acts of unfaithful, intimate intercourse and episodes of phallic farce, such as Sabbath stealing dirty drawers of a friend's college age daughter for self-gratis in the friend's tub.

I mostly agree with the assessment of Edward Porter, the National Book Award's blogger for this novel, who described the novel, in part, as "a celebration of the inexhaustible human need for carnality--as creative act, as vindication of individuality, as rebellion against failed marriage and other bad choices, and, most importantly, as F-you to the ever-present specter of death."

For much of the novel, Sabbath contemplates suicide while unconsolably grieving for Drenka, his lustful recently-deceased, long-term partner in unfaithful sexual hi-jinks. Sabbath repeatedly flashes back to their escapades. In these, Roth shows his mastery of lecherous linguistics:

"Lately, when Sabbath suckled at Drenka's uberous breasts--uberous, the root of exuberant, which is itself ex plus uberare, to be fruitful, to overflow like Juno lying prone in Tintoretto's painting where the Milky Way is coming out of her tit--suckled with an unrelenting frenzy that caused Drenka to roll her head back ecstatically back and to groan (as Juno herself may once have groaned), 'I feel it deep down in my c***,' he was pierced with the sharpest of longings for his late little mother."

The audio was awful.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Great book.. awful production

Philip Roth is a genius.. This is one of his great works... COMPLETELY RUINED by terrible recording quality.

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The final disappointment

Sinister yet violently arousing glimpse into the character's raw honesty and twisted definition of integrity.

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Deep

The audio recording is not crystal clear, but you get past that quickly as this story takes form. I loved it. It is not for everyone. I loved it.

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The worst Roth book that I've read.

I love Philip Roth, and I have listened to about 5-7 of his books. I have enjoyed and rated every one five stars except this one. This had such continuous dirty language that I had to quit after listening to about 20% of the book.
Listen to "Human Stain" or "indignation", they are great!

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  • Bl
  • 05-15-16

Great story, terrible audio quality

Really bad audio quality with this one. Great story though hard to get through. Yep

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Wow! Adds to my list of Phillip Roth attributes.

A marvelous story, Mickey Sabbath being one of Phillip Roth's most provocative protagonists thus far (Book No. 6 in my quest to read all of PR's novels over twenty-four months). This was a great listen, David Dukes having done a brilliant narration. Now I have to buy the book and READ IT. I particularly admired the way Roth wields sexuality the way other good writers wield their chosen violence, greed, mayhem or absurdity, to render them all one in the same as part of the human condition. The characters are all quite real and believable, however they stray from the mainstream. The story is fully engaging and the ending a real treat. Not sure I'd trust Mickey Sabbath as a friend, but I'm sure I'd enjoy meeting and talking with him. An imaginative excursion into the bowels of being unabashedly human.

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  • Gman
  • 01-23-16

shame about the quality

superb story and really well read but the audio quality was appalling. Maybe it was recorded on wax disks in in 1920s but it could sure.do with digital tinkering.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful