"She was so deeply imbedded in my consciousness that for the first year of school I seem to have believed that each of my teachers was my mother in disguise." Thus begins Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint, which is ostensibly the story of a sexually frustrated Jewish man named Alexander Portnoy, but which is equally a portrait of Sophie Portnoy, Alex's mother, and the mother of all Jewish mothers. She ruins her precious son with the most devastating weapon in any bad mother's armory: love. There could be no Estelle Costanza without Sophie Portnoy.
There is not a scene in which Sophie appears that is not excruciating (excrucifying?) starting with toilet training the phrase "tickling my prickling" occurs. She flirts with Alex shamelessly, hiking up her stockings in front of him. She agonizes over dirt and germs. She forces him to eat and hovers outside the bathroom door: "'Alex, I don't want you to flush the toilet,' says my mother sternly. 'I want to see what you've done in there.'" She builds him up only to cut him down so relentlessly that when he finally escapes her house, he spends the rest of his life trying and failing to run away from her, while at the same time, unbeknownst even to himself, trying and failing to find her replacement. "I am the son in the Jewish joke," he laments. "Only it ain't no joke!"