Review: The Professor of Desire — Philip Roth

Read: 47
To Go: 53

Book List:
41. The Winter Palace — Eva Stachniak
42. Lost Light — Michael Connelly
43. Echo Park — Michael Connelly
44. Hilarity Ensues — Tucker Max
45. A Home at the End of the World — Michael Cunningham
46. Trunk Music — Michael Connelly
47. The Professor of Desire — Philip Roth

As a student in college, David Kepesh styles himself “a rake among scholars, a scholar among rakes.” Little does he realize how prophetic this motto will be — or how damning. For as Philip Roth follows Kepesh from the domesticity of childhood into the vast wilderness of erotic possibility, from a ménage à trois in London to the throes of loneliness in New York, he creates a supremely intelligent, affecting, and often hilarious novel about the dilemma of pleasure: where we seek it; why we flee it; and how we struggle to make a truce between dignity and desire.

I didn’t know what to expect when I picked up The Professor of Desire in BMV, but I thought it sounded interesting and unusual, and I’d never read anything by Philip Roth before, so I figured, why not? Turns out, it was a pretty good decision.

My first impressions fell somewhere along the line of, so this guy will just have sex with anyone, huh? But as I got into it, The Professor of Desire revealed it to be, for the first little bit, an amusing story of sexual frustration, and then David’s journey to find himself, both as a person and a sexual being. He spends the novel bouncing around, trying to create his authentic self by connecting with several characters who have different predilections and effects on his life, and, I think, never really finds out who he is. Maybe it’s part of the time that David was written into, but he spends half the novel shaming himself for his unusual erotic tastes, and burying them forever, and then the other half trying to convince himself that conforming to the societally-acceptable sex life is really what he wants.

Aside from that, for some reason The Professor of Desire reminded me a little bit of Ulysses by James Joyce. Not in the downright crazy rambling way, but the structure of it — four very large chapters, no “scene” breaks, just paragraph upon paragraph with very little in the way of transitions. It was interesting and different, but not totally displeasing.

The Professor of Desire was probably one of the most different novels I’ve read this year — or perhaps ever — but it was a really worthwhile one. Pick it up if you see it!

Next book: A Darkness More Than Night — Michael Connelly

– Kelsey


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