Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth
Of course it's vulgar. How could it not be? The sustained cry of a ferociously perplexed, ferociously lucid New York City Jew—you expected maybe Jane Austen? Roth's barbaric yawp of a book was a literary instance of shock and awe, a dirty comic masterpiece that can stand with Tristram Shandy. (For the masturbation scenes alone it will endure forever.) It's also, once you crawl out of the rubble of its most infamous passages, tender and charitable, and not just towards the main character. How else to describe a book that, while it charts the wild arc of Portnoy's sexual and romantic misadventures—all of this being recounted by him to his therapist—discovers exactly the most painful question about relations between children and parents. "Doctor what should I rid myself of, tell me, the hatred... or the love?"— R.L.