Portnoy’s Complaint, pt. I

I have been a fan of Philip Roth for over 2 years now, since first opening Sabath’s Theater before moving on to Operation Shylock, his epic American Pastoral, and then Everyman. He has a sizable body of work, but I take what I can get here in Port Macquarie, and it was not until last week that I found a copy of Portnoy’s Complaint. There is much to say about this small novel, and I am going to make a serious effort at doing just that, but for now I would like to post a brief comment on a sentence I found last night.

In describing a scene about his mother (and this whole book is one long Jewish/Freudian double helix), the character says,
…that tragedy, as she calls it, was lurking in the wings. But high herself on the fruit of two whiskey sours….

Maybe it’s just me, but the part about “the fruit of two whiskey sours” struck me as Shakespearian, in the best sense of the word. It both exaggerates and understates, depending on how you take it, which is both difficult to achieve and subtle in it’s effects. You could read it that the “fruit” of the whiskey sours was the alcohol itself, or that the alcohol’s effects are blossoming inside the mother (aka: getting tipsy or wasted). But, if one knows how a proper whiskey sour is made, then they would also know that it is served with an orange slice, in which case the mother, or narrator on behalf of the mother, is essentially claiming to be such a prude that it was the mere fruit of the drink that did the trick. One explanation is metaphorical but less profound, while the other is a concrete description with wry implications. Impressive.

Maybe it’s just because I finished Coriolanus a few hours before that I’m surmising this connection. Shakespeare had a knack for utilizing the vocabulary of various professions that related to his characters, and I’d like to think this is a throwback to that. It works either way, but I did give a smug, knowing smile to myself when I read that. I worked at a bar. I’ve made a few whiskey sours.

Maybe it’s just me, and maybe my analysis is complete rubbish, but then, if you’re trolling the internet for insights into Shakespeare, what did you expect? I’m just saying….

We are leaving for the next leg of our tour….now It might be a while until I write again, but, as always, please stay in touch and let me know what you are all up to.

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