Sabbath's Theater

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Sabbaths theater.JPG
Front cover of the first edition
AuthorPhilip Roth
Cover artistOtto Dix, Sailor and girl, 1925
CountryUnited States
PublisherHoughton Mifflin
Publication date

Sabbath's Theater is a novel by Philip Roth about the exploits of 64-year-old Mickey Sabbath. It won the 1995 U.S. National Book Award for Fiction.[1] The cover is a detail of Sailor and Girl (1925) by German painter Otto Dix.

Summary and themes[edit]

Mickey Sabbath (modeled after American Jewish painter R.B. Kitaj[2]) is an unproductive, out-of-work, former puppeteer with a strong affinity for prostitutes, adultery, and the casual sexual encounter. Sabbath takes great pleasure in his status as the (prototypical) "dirty old man." He takes an equal pleasure in manipulating the people around him, primarily women—in a sense, they play the same role as his puppets. The loss of a decades-long wingman—the equally depraved Drenka—precipitates a crisis in a life he has long considered an utter failure. Sabbath wonders whether he should simply take his own life, thereby heeding the advice of the ghost of his departed mother, a frequent visitor who urges suicide as the fitting end for his failed life.


Literary critic Harold Bloom has declared Sabbath's Theater Roth's "masterwork."[3] Prominent literary critic James Wood told The Morning News, "I am a great fan of Sabbath’s Theater, it was an extraordinary book."[4] New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani found it hard to finish and "distasteful and disingenuous".[5]

It won the National Book Award for fiction[1]—thirty-five years after Roth's debut novel Goodbye Columbus won the same award (1960). It was also a finalist for the 1996 Pulitzer Prize.[6]


  1. ^ a b "National Book Awards – 1995" National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-03-27.
    (With essay by Ed Porter from the Awards 60-year anniversary blog.)
  2. ^ Nesvisky, Matt (November 8, 2007). "In-Your-Face Outsider". Jerusalem Post.[permanent dead link]
  3. ^ Bloom, Harold (2003). Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds. New York: Warner Books. p. 207.
  4. ^ Birnbaum, Robert (July 13, 2004). "James Wood by Robert Birnbaum". Morning News.[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ Kakutani, Michiko (August 22, 1995). "Mickey Sabbath, You're No Portnoy". New York Times.
  6. ^ "Fiction". The Pulitzer Prize. Retrieved 14 January 2014.

Preceded by National Book Award for Fiction
Succeeded by