Jason Pettus's Reviews > The Plot Against America

The Plot Against America by Philip Roth
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Nov 10, 08

Read in November, 2008

(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com:]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally.)

So after a month of election obsession here in Chicago, I find my schedule of book reviews in complete chaos: nearly 20 titles read now, all of them awaiting essays, and with me still continuing to read new books on a daily basis. I thought I'd start this week, then, with a whole series of recently read books that I don't have that much to say about, either because of being older titles or not very good or whatnot; and I thought I'd start this list as well with the best book out of all of them, American literary treasure Philip Roth's 2004 masterpiece The Plot Against America, which believe it or not is actually the very first book by Roth I've ever read. And man, what a doozy to start out with, because it so perfectly captures the entire zeitgeist of the Bush years, despite the plot being a science-fictiony "alternative history" one; because, see, for those who don't know, what this book posits is a world where Nazi sympathizer Charles Lindbergh becomes President of the US in 1940 instead of Franklin Roosevelt, and instead of going to war actually works out a non-aggression pact with the Axis powers. And then the story itself is told as a personal memoir, with the main character being Roth himself as a small Jewish child in New Jersey "living" through the events.

It's a brilliant concept, executed even more successfully precisely because of no melodramatic things taking place; under Roth's genius speculative mind, no Jews are actually rounded up into concentration camps under a Lindbergh administration, but merely a national air of hostility created towards them, a government-approved disdain for Jews that clearly affects the emotional well-being of Roth's tight-knit Jewish community in an industrialized mid-century New Jersey. And that's why this is such a magnificent statement about the Bush administration, a sneaky one that you might not even realize at first -- because Roth's whole point by using this fantastical premise is to show that you don't need out-and-out pogroms in order to create a discriminatory society, that you don't need goose-stepping stormtroopers in the streets in order to have a fascist-friendly nation. It's a fascinating book, one with a delightfully surprising ending, a novel that really floored me when I read it a few weeks ago; in fact, about the only complaint I have is that large sections of it are overwritten, and that Roth has a habit of delving into the minutiae of certain scenes in simply too much detail. Other than that, though, it comes highly recommended, and I believe is destined in the future (along with such titles as Cormac McCarthy's The Road and Max Brooks' World War Z ) to be one of the essential titles of the early 2000s, one of the books that will help explain to future generations just what it was like to live under the Bush regime. Needless to say, I am now eagerly looking forward to tackling more of this remarkable writer's ouevre.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Hollis ''this is such a magnificent statement about the Bush administration, a sneaky one that you might not even realize at first''

I think it's easy to read that kind of content into it, but Roth has repeatedly stated in interviews that there is no allegorical intention, hidden meaning or comparisons with the present in this book. It's a novel. A story (and an extremely good one at that). Nothing more, nothing less.


message 2: by Saunders (new)

Saunders Loved this book with so much passion. I never thought of the parallels with the Bush administrations.


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