Roth's Plot Against America
It's an excellent family drama, though. I particularly respected the treatment of the ne'er-do-well adopted nephew Alvin, who joins the Canadian forces to fight against the Nazis early on, but comes back with an amputated leg into an America that doesn't honor his war. Alvin is seen mostly through the eyes of the young Philip, the main narrative focus, who is horrified and fascinated by Alvin's missing leg, with its stump's festering wounds and its ill-fitting prosthetic. At about ten years old, Philip declares that he is Alvin's prosthetic. I'm still thinking about that statement.
Young Philip, who ages over the novel from about eight to about 12 (if I've got it right), is nervously tuned into every sign of strife. His older brother participates in a program to send Jewish children into the heartland for assimilation; he comes back from Tennessee a bit of a prat and a willing propagandist. His aunt has married the Rabbi-in-Chief, whose imprimatur has allowed Lindbergh to claim that his policies aren't anti-semitic. Philip's father is something of an old-school leftist, and his mother is happiest within the Jewish community of Newark, and so the two of them struggle against their desires to see their children advance and their fears that leaving the "ghetto" is part of an anti-Jewish program.
The idea that assimilation can be held out as both a promise and a threat seems to me to be a very contemporary concern. I just wish that the ending of Roth's novel had given me a better sense of what he was trying to say by evoking these ideas, these fears. If there was a fourth-act tragic death, it was the mother of Seldon--the downstairs neighbors' kid--and not only did she die offstage, she died in a flashback in an entirely different state, and she was never particularly vivid to begin with. The fifth act, if that's an appropriate frame to read this novel with, contains a lot of denouement, but no sense of real resolution.
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