A term paper on Zuckerman Unbound, by Philip Roth, shows that the book opens with Nathan Zuckerman on a New York City bus: “What the hell are you doing on a bus, with your dough?” a fellow passenger asks him. For Nathan Zuckerman is now famous, having sold his novel, Carnovsky, for “a million bucks.” Immediately, one cannot help but ascertain that this novel is Roth’s own history after the sale of Portnoy’s Complaint—the success, the money, and the public reaction. Roth/Zuckerman is almost indignant that his novel, a simple piece of fiction, has elicited such outrage.
A few facts on Zuckerman Unbound:
Zuckerman Ought to be Shot
You see, not everybody was delighted by this book that was making Zuckerman a fortune. Plenty of people had already written to tell him off. “For depicting Jews in a peep-show atmosphere of total perversion, for depicting Jews in acts of adultery, exhibitionism, masturbation, sodomy, fetishism, and whoremongery,” somebody with letterhead stationary as impressive as the President’s had even suggested that he “ought to be shot.” And in the spring of 1969 this was no longer just an expression (187).
From the safety of 1981, Roth can look back on the events and controversy of Portnoy’s Complaint and spin them into biographical fiction. Zuckerman becomes the subject by which Roth can objectively stand back and review, the mouthpiece for everything he wanted to say and express at the time.