Happy Birthday Philip

Philip Roth b. 19 March 1933

Though he said he’d pull the pin after his last book, Nemesis (2010), we hope that he’s tinkering with a posthumous classic (preferably something much better than The Original of Laura). We doubt it could be any funnier – or filthier – than Sabbath’s Theater (1995), that riotous and dark meeting of Mickey Sabbath (Lear/Fool) and Drenka Balich (Cordelia/Goneril/Regan), with her penchant for playing Mrs Malaprop.

Roth is the grubbiest writer in centuries, a great descendant of Catullus, Rabelais and Geoffrey Chaucer.  In a thoughtful piece, James Wood comments that “Misogyny always flickers in [Roth’s] nihilist vision, because woman-see Nietzsche-is seen as a timid obstacle to man’s metaphysical lawlessness. Woman is convention, in this vision. In Roth’s work, certainly, women do seem to exist to indulge or to obstruct the free play of the phallus.*”  We’re not sure this adequately sums up Drenka, however, who seems to be a force all of her own (there’s nothing timid about her!)

Roth in 1973 (photo by Nancy Crampton)

Roth in 1973 (photo by Nancy Crampton)

So happy birthday and let’s remember some of Drenka’s timeless phrases as a homage:

“Bear and grin it”

“When the shithouse hit the fan”

“Beating a dead whore”

“I’ve got to get quacking”

“You’re pulling my leg out”

“Easy as a log”

“Nuts and bulbs”

“It takes two to tangle”

“Don’t keep me in suspension”

“The whole kitten and kaboozle”

“Let him eat his own medicine”

“It took me for a loop”

“It feels as though I’ve been run over by a ringer”

“Alive and cooking”

“His days are counted”

“A little salt goes a long way”

“Crime doesn’t pay off”

“You can’t teach an old dog to sit”

“Foot!” (instead of “Heel!”)

“A roof under my head”

“”Like bringing coals to the fireplace”

“A closed and shut case”

“He thinks I’m a bottomless piss”

“I have a bone to grind with you”

“His bark is worse than your cry”

“The boy who cried ‘woof!'”

“You can’t compare apples and apples”

“The early bird is never late”

[*James Wood, The Broken Estate (1999), chapter entitled “The Monk of Fornication: Philip Roth’s Nihilism”.]


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