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Portnoy’s Complaint: making my mother cry


Dinner with friends was improvisational theatre
Philip Roth Writer
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We would be having dinner and somebody would say something. I wish I could… I wish they were recorded. I don't remember the specifics. Somebody would say something and someone else would begin to tell a story, and we would roar with laughter and he would then get higher and higher on our laughter and then someone would jump in with something else, and it was a wonderful moment. It was improvisational theatre, it was improvisational theatre. And I got that spirit in Whacking Off and in the chapters that come after that. And so it was… writing it was wonderful, writing it was wonderful. I was riding a wave.

[Q] It must have been, kind of, exhilarating to give a title… a chapter the title Cunt Crazy?

I wasn't going to say… I'd not been saying that, you know. You've… Cunt CrazyCunt Crazy and The Jewish Blues I think are the… Cunt Crazy, oh it was great fun, you're right. It was great… it was great fun. This was… I shared the propriety of my education, and I say to you I had an excellent education, but it was going to… it was holding me down in some way. It was worthwhile while I had it, but I couldn't be impeded by it as a writer.

The fame of the American writer Philip Roth (1933-2018) rested on the frank explorations of Jewish-American life he portrayed in his novels. There is a strong autobiographical element in much of what he wrote, alongside social commentary and political satire. Despite often polarising critics with his frequently explicit accounts of his male protagonists' sexual doings, Roth received a great many prestigious literary awards which include a Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1997, and the 4th Man Booker International Prize in 2011.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Whacking Off, Cunt Crazy

Duration: 1 minute, 52 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2011

Date story went live: 18 March 2013