Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Plot Against America by Philip Roth

This well-written book explores an interesting diversion in the course of 20th century America.

In Roth's alternate history (though I'm sure he would despise that genre term as much as TC Boyle rails against "science fiction" in his preface to "A Friend of the Earth,) Roth imagines what if Charles Lindbergh had run for and won the presidency in 1940. Lindbergh was reputed to be a vicious anti-Semite, and in this piece of fiction, Lindbergh subtly sets out to assimilate the Jews into pork-eating, Saturday-working Americana.

The story is told from the POV of young Phil Roth, the author's doppelganger. Roth has done this in other books, and it's an interesting conceit. It certainly answers that question that all writers occasionally get, "Is {insert a character's name here} really *you*?"

The only thing that it obfuscates is that Roth is, of course, *all* the characters. All characters require, as Marge Piercy so nicely put it, a "blood sacrifice" to bring them to life.

The end of the book is, IMHO, problematic. While there may be some historical support for the tactic Roth imagines, I found it a too convenient motivations to explain away some of the preceding events. And, while it might explain the imagined actions of a fictionalized character, it does not explain why people (fictionally) followed him. I don't find it startling that Hitler was a murderous anti-Semite and conceived the Final Solution, but I find it horrifying that so many Germans blithely allowed it to happen. I think the end of the book could have delved a little deeper into Lindbergh's Willing Collaborators.

TK Kenyon
Author of Rabid: A Novel and Callous: A Novel

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