Jack’s Naughty Bits: Philip Roth, Portnoy’s Complaint

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Jack's Naughty Bits


there’s a place where Catholics and Jews are in complete accord, it’s in their

sovereign deployment of guilt. My childhood home was ostensibly atheist,

but the mere fact that Irish Catholic blood flows in half of my veins seems to

have consigned me, phylogenetically, to the full compliment of nookie

neuroses. Had I been Jewish it seems I would have gone through the same

issues, at least if one believes Philip Roth. The protagonist of Portnoy’s

Complaint‘s agonized confrontations with his sexuality are meant to be a

case study in the effects of Jewish Mother Syndrome on a randy adolescent,

but they remind me strongly of my own agnostic fits. As such,

Portnoy stands as a larger allegory on the pain and humor of a

potently sexual individual scraping against a culture of repression. It’s an old

tune, certainly, but few sing it as well as Roth.


So what do frustrated teenagers do to release all their pent-up urges?

They masturbate, of course, and Portnoy is a pro. He starts by doing it

in hiding, though he gets more and more public as the years pass. He does it

in the family bathroom, pretending to have the runs; he does it on the bus

sitting next to a sleeping archetypal shiksa; he does it in movie

theaters; he does it in the woods; he does it in the beef liver his family had

reserved for dinner; and he does it in his baseball mitt, having snuck into the

burlesque. It’s this last that I’ve selected to excerpt, for here, more

than anywhere else in the novel, Roth spells out the material stuff of

Portnoy’s fantasy. And it’s a scream. Earlier in the novel Portnoy’s dream

women (and milk bottles and cored apples and his sister’s brassieres) called

him “Big Boy” and asked him to give them all he’s got; here he adopts the

quaint moniker “Fuckface” and gets it on with a chorus girl. In the best book

on masturbation, this might well be the finest scene.

* * *

From Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth

What if later, after the show, that one over there with the enormous boobies, what

if . . . In sixty seconds I have imagined a full and wonderful life of utter degradation

that we lead together on a chenille spread in a shabby hotel room, me (the enemy of

America First) and Thereal McCoy, which is the name I attach to the sluttiest-looking slut

in the chorus line. And what a life it is too, under our bare bulb (HOTEL flashing just

outside our window). She pushes Drake’s Daredevil cupcakes (chocolate with a white

creamy center) down over my cock and then eats them off of me, flake by flake. She pours

maple syrup out of the Log Cabin can and then licks it from my tender balls until they’re

clean again as a little boy’s. Her favorite line of English prose is a masterpiece: “Fuck my

pussy, Fuckface, till I faint.” When I fart in the bathtub, she kneels naked on the tile floor,

leans all the way over, and kisses the bubbles. She sits on my cock as I take a shit,

plunging into my mouth a nipple the size of a tollhouse cookie, and all the while

whispering every filthy word she knows viciously in my ear. She puts ice cubes in her

mouth until her tongue and lips are freezing, then sucks me off — then switches to hot tea!

Everything, everything I have ever thought of, she has thought of too, and will do.

The biggest whore (rhymes in Newark with “poor”) there ever was. And she’s mine! “Oh

Thereal, I’m coming, I’m coming, you fucking whore,” and so become the only person

ever to ejaculate into the pocket of a baseball mitt at the Empire Burlesque house in


© Philip Roth