Happy Mother’s Day from Schlemiel in Theory
Growing up, I was always surprised by the representations of Jewish mothers I would see in films, TV shows, and books. I was, in particular, floored when I first read Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint when I was an undergrad. I read my father’s autographed copy of the novel and knew, well before reading it, that it was an important book for another generation (the baby boomers); and I wondered if it would speak to me. But something about the representation of Portnoy’s mother didn’t resonate.
Perhaps I was surprised by the representation of Portnoy’s mother because I was raised in upstate New York by a mother whose Long Island upbringing didn’t include all of the urban, immigrant, or post-immigrant fears that many Jewish mothers are “supposed” to have. I did in fact have some very aggressive New Yorkers in my family, but they seemed tame in comparison to Philip Roth’s…
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