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By Philip Roth (1969)
First Edition, First Printing
DESCRIPTION: So out of all the intellectual novels of the countercultural era (being defined here as the decade between Kennedy's death and Nixon's resignation), which is the singlemost important of them all? Well, that's a matter of debate, of course; but a strong argument could be made for Philip Roth's 1969 Portnoy's Complaint, one of the most vastly influential in terms of mainstream audience appeal, writing the rules of Postmodernism, tapping into the zeitgeist of the burgeoning youth movement, and incidentally being one of the very first books in history to look publicly and frankly at the lives of post-Holocaust American Jews, and the growing cultural divide over the subject between the camp-surviving older generation and all their hippie children. Certainly not the first hit of Roth's career, like many Postmodernist masters he had actually first established his reputation during the Mid-Century-Modernist period, with smart and droll yet tamer stories in such respected publications as The New Yorker; but also like many Postmodernist masters, it wasn't until the cultural freedoms of the countercultural years that Roth really blossomed into one of the best of his generation, taking the layers of subjects that he and his young with-it friends were talking about at the time, and weaving them into this complicated look at a sexy, nebbish, overly onanistic young urbanite, right at the same time that Woody Allen was doing the same in movies and Lenny Bruce on the stand-up stage.
It's easy to forget as well just how scandalous this was among the Jewish community when it first came out, which is a testament to just how much this book has singlehandedly changed mainstream culture in the last 45 years; before the countercultural era, it was thought by most Jewish survivors of the war that the best way to conduct themselves was to simply bring as little attention to their Jewishness in public as possible, and certainly not to air their dirty laundry in public for all the Gentiles to start laughing at all over again. Roth, though, not only aired every bit of this dirty laundry, but had the audacity to state how sick he and his friends were of listening to their aging parents still harping on The War twenty years later, letting it define their dour personalities, inspiring them to worship a cartoonishly angelic martyr like Anne Frank, and turning them into the smothering, overprotective authority figures they had become. This connected profoundly with Roth's fellow young Jews, even while connecting with the mainstream in an equally deep way over just the general issue of the Generation Gap; and in the meanwhile, it helped normalize the details of urban Yiddish culture so much that, now here in the 21st century, one of the most popular TV shows in history is still the '90s classic Seinfeld, a contemporary spitting image of Roth's poor, whiny, hilarious, sexually frustrated Portnoy if ever there was one. And it was by a respected intellectual, so even the professors and other nerds could get behind it too. Everybody wins!
Easily one of the most important pieces for a collector of modern first editions to have in their library, this is being sold today at its reasonable cost because of a condition issue on the dust jacket's inside flap (but see below for more), a true steal that will look great as a front-facing centerpiece of any person's collection.
CONDITION: Text: Very Good (VG). In general still in really good shape, except for a few water droplets seen on the red top edges of the pages. Dust jacket: Good (G). In all other aspects, this dust jacket would normally be rated at Very Good, except for one quite significant flaw: a large tear down the entire length of the inside front flap, that was scotch-taped back together by a previous owner. This will affect the resale value of this book, for those who collect professionally; but for those looking for something nice to display in a home library, this copy otherwise looks fantastic when the covers are shut. Stated "First Printing" on the copyright page.
PROVENANCE: Acquired by CCLaP at the Oak Park Book Fair, September 2013.