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Our Gang

A review of Philip Roth's fifth novel and follow up to "Portnoy's Complaint"

Here is a Philip Roth quickie, so hot that it failed to make the Random House fall catalogue of coming attractions, yet burst into print overnight for the Xmas trade. It is also a shortie, about 50,000 words for $6.00. It is reminiscent of Macbird. Macbird was tasteless and dreadful; Our Gang is wittier, but also tasteless and dreadful. A competition has been in progress for some time among angry writer-entrepreneurs to determine who can produce the most slanderous accounts of the intelligences in Washington, and with one effortless stride Roth now moves to the head of the pack. He makes no effort to disguise his target, who is President Trick E. Dixon (preceded by Lyin’ B. Johnson and John F. Charisma), or to moderate his insults. His overriding theme would seem to be that our country’s leaders are gross misrepresenters of everything they touch; but his technique for bringing this message itself produces a gross and difficult-to-excuse misrepresentation. If the book receives much notoriety—and presumably it will—it could well have a small boomerang effect and even win Trick E. Dixon a few new votes. If it is a precursor of the political literature to come in the election year, then the year is not going to be noted for rhetorical reserve, modesty or decorum. But then we knew that.