February 6, 2012

My Complaint

I’ve always known my sense of humor is off.  A lot of what people find hilarious, I empathize with and find really, really, really sad.  And poop humor really isn’t my kind of thing.  I’m not humorless, by any stretch ~ at least I don’t think I am.  I find Terry Pratchett books hilarious and I love the humor in All Creatures Great and Small.  I don’t know why this is or where it comes from.  Nature or nurture? Who knows.

So, when I finished Portnoy’s Complaint, it actually made me a little angry.  I didn’t read ahead or anything, so it came as a total surprise.  What happens is this (SPOILER ALERT): You read this anguished and anguishing 274 pages where a very troubled guy talks to his psychiatrist.  Then this:

PUNCH LINE:  So [said the doctor] Now vee may perhaps to begin. Yes?


In one line it makes a joke of everything that went before.  It dismisses everything.  All that anguish I was feeling on behalf of a character I didn’t even like but who was very compelling.  I felt taken advantage of.  If you don’t even take yourself seriously, why should I and why did I just spend all this emotional energy and time?

I’m sure this is the point in some ways.  The encapsulation of all that went before.  To the very end, the character refuses to change, though he does try but can’t see past his own blinders.  He makes a joke of it.  And in a larger sense, it’s because I am that Midwestern girl he yearned for but ultimately could not understand.  I believe in human dignity and treating others well and all that that he can’t see beyond his own selfishness.  He’s the same thing as Humbert Humbert in Lolita in so many ways.  The whole world is subverted for his selfish needs.  He doesn’t actually rape the girl at the end, but he would have if he could. Does the fact that he couldn’t get him off the hook?

Is this book an indictment of a particular brand of Jewish culture? Or is it merely a very well-done enactment of one person’s rabbit hole of self?  You tell me.  I imagine I’m not saying anything new and that people have said this all before.

Overall, I guess I’m saying I respect this book ~ I love the style of it and the complexity and depth and the refusal to bend to what people want an ending to be.  But I really don’t like this book.

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