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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Plot Against America: A Novel by Philip Roth


Published in 2004 by Houghton Mifflin

In The Plot Against America, Philip Roth creates an alternate history centered around the presidential election of 1940. FDR doesn't run against Wendell Willkie. Instead, Charles Lindbergh enters the contest at the convention as an anti-war candidate and defeats Roosevelt.

In the real world, Lindbergh was  friendly towards the Nazi regime in Germany and made several public anti-Semitic comments so Roth's little twist to history is not out of line. Also, Lindbergh spoke at several "America First" anti-war rallies in 1940 and 1941. The first part of this book is the strongest. The alternate history moves briskly, the introduction to the Roth family and its main character, Philip (I can only assume that this is intended to be an alternate history autobiography) proceeds well.

Lindbergh speaking at an America First rally 
However, after the part of the book about the family trip to Washington, D.C. The Plot Against America just bogs down. The story moves forwards and backwards, sometimes weeks at a time and Roth seems more concerned about creating a sense of the atmosphere of pre-World War II Newark than he is about telling his story. Recently, I watched To Kill A Mockingbird and it occurred to me that Roth was intentionally attempting to mimic that book's feel, except in Newark, New Jersey. If that was intention, he succeeded, but he also succeeded in derailing his story with endless stories of secret bus trips and horses at orphanages. I am not quite sure what the point of all that was, but I know that I grew weary of it.

The end of the book is a mess. Roth tells the political ending long before he tells what happens to the Roth family and the little Jewish community of Newark. When he tells the ending so early, the drama is ruined, completely ruined. Also, the motivating factor given for Lindbergh's pro-German actions is so far-fetched, so ludicrous that I almost threw this book across the room.

So, I end up giving this book 3 stars. Great start, nicely realized (but oftentimes pointless) description of life in Newark, ridiculous ending.

Reviewed on February 26, 2013.

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