Read Sabbath’s Theater Online

Authors: Philip Roth

Sabbath’s Theater



About the Author

Also by Philip Roth




1 There’s Nothing That Keeps Its Promise

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

2 To Be Or Not To Be

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine


In 1997 Philip Roth won the Pulitzer Prize for
American Pastoral
. In 1998 he received the National Medal of Arts at the White House, and in 2002 he received the highest award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Gold Medal in Fiction, previously awarded to John Dos Passos, William Faulkner, and Saul Bellow, among others. He has twice won the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He has won the PEN/Faulkner Award three times. In 2005
The Plot Against America
received the Society of American Historians’ Prize for ‘the outstanding historical novel on an American theme for 2003–2004’.

Recently Roth received PEN’s two most prestigious prizes: in 2006 the PEN/Nabokov Award ‘for a body of work…of enduring originality and consummate craftsmanship’ and in 2007 the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction, given to a writer whose ‘scale of achievement over a sustained career…places him or her in the highest rank of American literature.’

Roth is the only living American writer to have his work published in a comprehensive, definitive edition by the Library of America. The last of the eight volumes is scheduled for publication in 2013


Zuckerman Books

The Ghost Writer

Zuckerman Unbound

The Anatomy Lesson

The Prague Orgy

The Counterlife

American Pastoral

I Married a Communist

The Human Stain

Exit Ghost

Roth Books

The Facts • Deception

Patrimony • Operation Shylock

The Plot Against America

Kepesh Books

The Breast

The Professor of Desire

The Dying Animal

Nemeses: Short Novels

Everyman • Indignation

The Humbling • Nemesis


Reading Myself and Others

Shop Talk

Other Books

Goodbye, Columbus • Letting Go

When She Was Good • Portnoy’s Complaint • Our Gang

The Great American Novel • My Life as a Man



This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

Version 1.0

Epub ISBN 9781407018638

Published by Vintage 1996

14 16 18 20 19 17 15 13

Copyright © Philip Roth 1995

Philip Roth has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work

This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser

The author is grateful for permission to quote ‘Meru’ and lines from ‘For Anne Gregory’, from
The Poems of W. B. Yeats: A New Edition
, edited by Richard J. Finneran. Copyright 1934 by Macmillan Publishing Company, renewed 1962 by Bertha Georgie Yeats. ‘The Sheik of Araby’ by Harry B. Smith, Ted Snyder and Francis Wheeler. All rights reserved. Made in U.S.A. Used by permission of Warner Bros. Publications Inc., Miami, Florida 33014. The quotation on p. 88 is from
Western Attitudes Towards Death from the Middle Ages to the Present
by Phillipe Ariès, John Hopkins University Press, 1974. The quotation on p. 280 is from ‘A proposal to classify happiness as a psychiatric disorder’, by R. P. Bentall,
Journal of Medical Ethics
, June 1992.

First published in Great Britain in 1995 by Jonathan Cape

Random House, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road,
London SW1V 2SA

Addresses for companies within The Random House Group Limited can be found at:

The Random House Group Limited Reg. No. 954009

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

ISBN 9780099582014







Every third thought shall be my grave.

— The Tempest
, act v, scene 1

fucking others or the affair is over.

This was the ultimatum, the maddeningly improbable, wholly unforeseen ultimatum, that the mistress of fifty-two delivered in tears to her lover of sixty-four on the anniversary of an attachment that had persisted with an amazing licentiousness—and that, no less amazingly, had stayed their secret—for thirteen years. But now with hormonal infusions ebbing, with the prostate enlarging, with probably no more than another few years of semi-dependable potency still his—with perhaps not that much more life remaining—here at the approach of the end of everything, he was being charged, on pain of losing her, to turn himself inside out.

She was Drenka Balich, the innkeeper’s popular partner in business and marriage, esteemed for the attention she showered on all her guests, for her warmhearted, mothering tenderness not only with visiting children and the old folks but with the local girls who cleaned the rooms and served the meals, and he was the forgotten puppeteer Mickey Sabbath, a short, heavyset, white-bearded man with unnerving green eyes and painfully arthritic fingers who, had he said yes to Jim Henson some thirty-odd years earlier, before
Sesame Street
started up, when Henson had taken him to lunch on the Upper East Side and asked him to join his clique of four or five people, could have been inside Big Bird all these years. Instead of Caroll Spinney, it would have been Sabbath
who was the fellow inside Big Bird, Sabbath who had got himself a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Sabbath who had been to China with Bob Hope—or so his wife, Roseanna, delighted in reminding him back when she was still drinking herself to death for her two unchallengeable reasons: because of all that had not happened and because of all that had. But as Sabbath wouldn’t have been any happier inside Big Bird than he was inside Roseanna, he was not much bruised by the heckling. In 1989, when Sabbath had been publicly disgraced for the gross sexual harassment of a girl forty years his junior, Roseanna had had to be interned for a month in a psychiatric institution because of the alcoholic breakdown brought on by the humiliation of the scandal.

“One monogamous mate isn’t enough for you?” he asked Drenka. “You like monogamy so much with him you want it with me too? Is there no connection you can see between your husband’s enviable fidelity and the fact that he physically repels you?” Pompously he continued, “We who have never stopped exciting each other impose on each other no vows, no oaths, no restrictions, whereas with him the fucking is sickening even for the two minutes a month he bends you over the dinner table and does it from behind. And why is that? Matija is big, powerful, virile, a head of black hair like a porcupine. His hairs are
. Every old dame in the county is in love with him, and not just for his Slavic charm. His looks turn them on. Your little waitresses are all nuts about the cleft in his chin. I’ve watched him back in the kitchen when it’s a hundred degrees in August and they’re waiting ten deep on the terrace for tables. I’ve seen him churning out the dinners, grilling those kebabs in his sopping T-shirt. All agleam with grease, he turns
on. Only his wife he repels. Why? The ostentatiously monogamous nature, that is why.”

Drenka dragged herself mournfully beside him, up the steep wooded hillside to the heights where their bathing brook bubbled forth, clear water rippling down a staircase of granite boulders brokenly spiraling between the storm-slanted, silvery-green birches that overhung the banks. During the early months of the
affair, on a solitary hiking expedition in search of just such a love nest, she had discovered, within a clump of ancient fir trees not far from the brook, three boulders, each the size and the shade of a small elephant, that enclosed the triangular clearing they would have instead of a home. Because of mud, snow, or drunken hunters out shooting up the woods, the crest of the hill was not accessible in all seasons, but from May through early October, except when it rained, it was here they retreated to renovate their lives. Years back a helicopter had once appeared out of nowhere to hover momentarily a hundred feet overhead while they were naked on the tarpaulin below, but otherwise, though the Grotto, as they’d come to call the hideaway, was fifteen minutes by foot from the only paved road connecting Madamaska Falls to the valley, no human presence had ever threatened their secret encampment.

Drenka was a dark, Italian-looking Croat from the Dalmatian coast, on the short side like Sabbath, a full, firmly made woman at the provocative edge of being just overweight, her shape, at her heaviest, reminiscent of those clay figurines molded circa 2000
fat little dolls with big breasts and big thighs unearthed all the way from Europe down to Asia Minor and worshiped under a dozen different names as the great mother of the gods. She was pretty in a rather efficient, businesslike way, except for her nose, a surprisingly bridgeless prizefighter’s nose that created a sort of blur at the heart of her face, a nose slightly out of plumb with the full mouth and the large dark eyes, and the telltale sign, as Sabbath came to view it, of everything malleable and indeterminate in her seemingly well-deployed nature. She looked as though she had once been mauled, in earliest childhood damaged by a crushing blow, when in fact she was the daughter of kindly parents, both of them high school teachers religiously devoted to the tyrannical platitudes of Tito’s Communist party. Their only child, she had been abundantly loved by these nice, dreary people.

Other books

Almost French by Sarah Turnbull
The Labyrinth of Osiris by Paul Sussman
The Turtle Boy: Peregrine's Tale by Kealan Patrick Burke
Force and Fraud by Ellen Davitt
Mountain Moonlight by Jaci Burton
Lifestyles of the Rich and Shameless by NOIRE, Swinson, Kiki
Libros de Sangre Vol. 2 by Clive Barker
Sweet Poison by David Roberts