Page 40 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 47

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
involves (one which the novel never spells out) is not presented
simply as an expression o f Mrs. Zuckerman, the overprotective
mother now guard ing the image o f all Jews. Rather it is p re ­
sented as p a rt o f the tradition o f reading shared by both Zucker­
m an’s parents and passed on by their generation to readers
o f Zuckerman’s novels who mistakenly equate Mrs. Zuckerman
with the mother in her son’s books — much as Roth is mistaken
for his characters.
No matter what the au thor may have set out to do in his
novels, Roth’s depictions o f misogyny allow us to see how mas­
culinity and femininity constitute each other, concretely and h u ­
morously, in the form o f the stereotypes o f the mother-son re ­
lationship. Rather than affirm ing those stereotypes, the sensa­
tional, exaggerated, satiric style o f
Portnoy’s Complaint
throws
them into question. Moreover, the self-absorption o f these char­
acters makes it hard to identify with either mo ther or son, and
easy to see in both the problems with the construction o f mas­
culinity and femininity in western Jewish culture.
Similarly, few would argue that Roth presents admirable, well
developed female characters in
Zuckerman Bound.
T h e re is little
appeal in the many women who seem to live mainly as ex ten­
sions o f their men. For example, E.I. Lonoff, the aging Jewish
writer is flanked by both Amy Bellette, a writer whose talent
seems secondary to playing Lolita for him, and Hope, who
seems to exist to play his long-suffering Wasp wife. Similarly,
the string o f women who sleep with Zuckerman are often in­
telligent, professional women whose jobs, and often husbands,
are no encumbrance to succumbing to his charms. Caesara
O ’Shea, the spunky Irish movie star, who d ropped Zuckerman,
might seem to be an exception. Although she had three chil­
dren , because she was “raised to be a mo ther or a nun , not
the movie star men desire in he r,” she refused to marry or
legitimize her ch ildren’s fathers. But she drops Zuckerman
mainly to go to South America as the mistress o f a d ifferen t
famous man. These women are depicted as mainly accessories
to male wishes, however, because they exist as the fantasies of
Zuckerman, the self-absorbed misogynist, who is no more like­
able than the female characters. But
Zuckerman Bound
does show
us that misogyny is not a simple matter o f hate. It is also a
m atter o f mother-love.
A middle-aged Zuckerman is not without what we might call