The Plot Against America by Philip Roth

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The 150-word Review: I’ve been thinking about this book recently.  The Plot Against America is a historical fiction that speaks as much about the present as the bizzaro-America Roth imagines.  The Plot Against America is a cautionary tale of what can happen if we do not remain wary of our leaders.  In our information-saturated world, it’s difficult to delineate the truth from the noise, misdirection, and subterfuge.  In this light, Roth’s seemingly preposterous scenario remains frighteningly plausible.

Flying from town to town in the Spirit of St. Louis, Charles Lindbergh, an outspoken isolationist, defeats Roosevelt for the presidency in 1940.  Lindbergh soon negotiates a treaty with Adolf Hitler.  America becomes a friend of the Nazis.  Phillip Roth is a young Jewish boy in a working-class neighborhood in New Jersey.  Through his eyes, we witness a slow creep of Antisemitism take hold of the nation, culminating in a riot of oppression, hysteria, and hate.

You will enjoy this book if you are a fan of: anti-fascist jeremiads, larger-than-life events rendered intimately at home, media attack dogs like, Walter Winchell, the forgotten politics of Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh, cautionary tales.

Clavinism (stuff that will not make you look cool in a bar): Actually Norm, Charles Lindbergh delivered a speech in 1941 titled, “Who Are the War Agitators?,” naming the British, the Jewish people, and the Roosevelt administration as war agitators.


New Philip Roth Novel in September

Philip Roth’s twenty-ninth novel will be released this September. Entitled, “Indignation” it will be a period piece about fathers and sons and coming-of-age during the 1950’s. From the publisher’s description:


“It is 1951 in America, the second year of the Korean War. A studious, law-abiding, intense youngster from Newark, New Jersey, Marcus Messner, is beginning his sophomore year on the pastoral, conservative campus of Ohio’s Winesburg College. And why is he there and not at the local college in Newark where he originally enrolled? Because his father, the sturdy, hard-working neighborhood butcher, seems to have gone mad — mad with fear and apprehension of the dangers of adult life, the dangers of the world, the dangers he sees in every corner for his beloved boy.

As the long-suffering, desperately harassed mother tells her son, the father’s fear arises from love and pride. Perhaps, but it produces too much anger in Marcus for him to endure living with his parents any longer. He leaves them and, far from Newark, in the midwestern college, has to find his way amid the customs and constrictions of another American world.”

Scott Rudin, the producer of the film adaptation for “No Country For Old Men,” has already nabbed the film rights to this novel.

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American Pastoral by Philip Roth

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The 150-word Review: Swede Levov, the protagonist from Philip Roth’s “American Pastoral” is a microcosm of the American century. As a young man, he was athletic, able, charismatic, designed for success, a paragon of American potential and assimilation. He was a manifestation of everything that was “good” with America.

Swede lives the American dream with his perfect family in an idyllic American town, but when his daughter commits a capricious act of political terror, Swede’s veneer of American bliss slowly crumbles and he becomes the embodiment of the turmoil and uncertainty that is also the American century.

Philip Roth’s ability to project sweeping themes upon his characters, while also focusing on their intimate failures and emotional idiosyncrasies with microscopic clarity, is unrivaled by any other contemporary author. Roth’s dissection of Swede Levov’s psyche transforms the bronze-like myth of “The Swede” into one of the most affecting tragic figures in all of American literature.

Having this book on your shelf will impress: Harold Bloom, the Weather Underground, Nathan Zuckerman, anyone who sincerely wants to better understand the American experience, the Pulitzer Prize committee, New Jersey suburbanites, and glove makers.

This book will go great with: an American Sweetheart.

Set the mood with: Atlantic City by Bruce Springsteen.

Clavinism (stuff that will not make you look cool in a bar): Actually Norm, American Pastoral is narrated by Nathan Zuckerman, Roth’s literary alter ego.

Philip Roth on NPR’s Fresh Air

I generally do not like interviews. I’ll confess. I usually turn off the TV and go to bed right after the second segment of the Daily Show, before the interview because it is so excruciating to watch.

I love Terry Gross. She is a naturally gifted interviewer. Fresh Air is often playing in the background while I work.

Here is a link to one of my favorite Fresh Air interview subjects: Philip Roth. It is a special show commemorating Roth’s 75th birthday, featuring highlights from previous interviews with Roth, where he shares insights on many of his major literary themes, such as sexuality, the Jewish-American experience, and aging.


Commemorating Philip Roth’s 75th Birthday.