Out of some dark, masochistic impulse, I chose to prepare myself for the upcoming coronation of the least qualified president in the history of these fine United States by reading this classic novel by famous pessimist Philip Roth.
Told in long, nostalgic descriptive sentences that unfurl around the reader like swamp- monster tentacles, this novel imagines a chilling alternative history of the 1940s in the USA as experienced by Roth as a little boy.
Famous aviator Charles Lindbergh, a celebrity and media creation, is elected president after positioning himself as a champion of the “regular people” and advocating an isolationist stance toward World War II for the good of America. Lindbergh openly criticizes “Jewish interests” for trying to drag America into “Europe’s war” and signs a treaty with Nazi Germany, promising that the USA will stay out of the war and do nothing to prevent Nazi expansion. Emboldened by Lindbergh’s victory, racists rejoice and a brutal wave of anti-Semitism flourishes in America.
Young Roth describes the turmoil in his own family at home, as his cousin and brother grow up, follow different ideological paths and at times go to war with the family and each other. Philip speaks eloquently, heartbreakingly, about something we all must face in one way or another: the discovery that our parents are just people, that even they have limits, that they cannot hold back the tide of the world, and that none of us can bring back the safety of childhood past.
I jot these notes in early January, 2017. This is an unsettling, sinister novel so plausible that it will potentially give you nightmares, especially given our current political situation. I consider that reason enough to read it.
Book review: The Plot Against America, by Philip Roth, 4/5 stars.