Great Book: The Plot Against America by Philip Roth

Roth's The Plot Against America was nominated by some critics for the New York Times' best book published within the last 25 years contest. And it's also this month's book club selection for my Jewish Book Club.

The premise is that of a faux memoir or alternate history memoir. Philip Roth writes in the first person about his childhood growing up in a Jewish suburb of Newark in the forties. The crucial difference is that in this life, Charles Lindberg enters the Presidential against Franklin Roosevelt in 1940 on a platform of keeping America out of the war. He wins by a landslide, precipitating a dangerous slide in American politics towards the kind of anti-semitism indulged in by Hitler.

This is the first work by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Roth that I've read. I can see why he's so popular. He does a superb job of invoking the sights, sounds, and smells, the fears, hopes and relationships of this community and of his family.

The premise is ambitious and intriguing, and carried out very thoroughly. Lindberg WAS a known anti-Semite and Roth builds a completely believable scenario.

Then the end of the book happens. The house of cards collapses. Roth fails to pull an astonishing ending out of the bag. Perhaps because Lindberg was a real individual Roth was reluctant to demonize him to the extent that would have made this a really ground-breaking, mind-blowing 'it could happen here' story. But then why write the book at all?

I am frankly perplexed by the ending of the book. And disappointed.


kimbofo said...

I read this book late last year - like you it was my first Roth.

Unfortunately, while it dealt with some big, important themes, I found it a disappointing read.

Jordan said...

I hope you both give him another chance after being deflated by that ending. I've enjoyed The Human Stain and The Dying Animal, and hear wonderful things about Everyman.