Autobiography requires as much human and technical control as fiction—the narrative structure here is even unusually intricate for Roth—but by barring both the wild manic fantasies of a Portnoy and the rich descriptive texture of his still‐earlier work, Roth knowingly puts his imagination in a sling.
The first story, “Salad Days,” one of the best Roth has written, is so full of nuanced detail and warmth of feeling that it becomes an object‐lesson in the veracity of fiction over “fact,” while Peter's autobiography, for all its humor and brio, is basically one shrill extended cry of “Foul! Why Peter (or Roth) should feel that telling the story this way, presumably telling it straight, would be any more free of self‐pity and that bald sense of victimization is a mystery to me.
If there has been a funnier novel in the last 10 years, or one that exploits psychoanalysis and the “family romance” more brilliantly, I don't know what it could be.
Surprisingly, in the light of his ambivalent, even degrading attitudes toward women, Roth's book had the most visible influence on the emerging new women writers, who were just getting into the confessional swing when “Portnoy” appeared.
Unable to abolish the demon through his work or even to describe it convincingly, though it dominates all his waking thoughts, Peter turns to direct autobiography in a desperate gesture of exorcism.
Perhaps the “facts” will speak for themselves and provide relief where the imagination found itself blocked and thwarted. Whatever therapeutic value such a book has for its author, the literary problem remains.
(A few pages on marriage in the fifties even appeared as an Op‐Ed article in The Times.) He calls this longest section of the book “My True Story” and precedes it with two previously published stories—one very fine, the other tedious and unconvincing—that fictionalize the ‐same material.
But the sequence is roughly chronological and can be read as a more or less coherent narrative, a single novel that plays internally (if not very consequentially) on the theme of life and art.“My Life as a Man” thus adds third part (and a third style) to the personal trilogy begun with “Goodbye, Columbus” and “Portnoy's Complaint.” Many earlier characters recur in different guises: Brenda Patimkin becomes Sharon Shatzky, daughter of Al “the Zipper King” Shatzky; Alex Portnoy's parents play recognizable parts as do that famous pampered boyhood and the sexual confusions that followed; even the cartoon‐like Dr.
Never in our history have Americans been so driven to expose themselves; in our recent revaluation of all values, privacy has been one of the big losers.
Classical psychoanalysis — which, though a “talking cure,” is essentially an interior dialogue, as private as the confession‐box—has been more and more displaced by consciousness‐raising groups, encounter therapies and other techniques which seek an alleviation of guilt and isolation by comparing private lives, not simply exploring one's own.