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GOODBYE, COLUMBUS by Philip Roth (Houghton Mifflin: $7.95)

September 17, 1989|CHARLES SOLOMON

Thirty years ago, Philip Roth burst onto the American literary scene with this outrageous collection of short stories. He may not have invented the characters of the Jewish-American Princess and the overbearing Jewish mother that occupy so large a place in contemporary fiction, but he epitomized them with rare humor as Brenda Patimkin and Aunt Gladys in "Goodbye, Columbus." (Baby-boomers who endured the 1969 Ali MacGraw-Richard Benjamin film will discover that its longeurs have not tarnished the wit of the original story.)

Roth's merciless but affectionate stories of upper-middle-class Jewish life in America have lost none of their pungency. "The Conversion of the Jews" pits a literal-minded Yeshiva student against a conventionally pious rabbi; a shakren (liar) gets a richly deserved comeuppance in "The Defender of the Faith"; an Americanized lawyer learns the perils of judging by appearances in "Eli, the Fanatic." Delightfully irreverent reading to brighten the gray monotony of autumn in Los Angeles.

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