The Plot Against America

Philip Roth considers his latest novel (his 23rd) one of his five “Roth books,” those in which he and his family members are the main characters in a story that is more or less fictional, depending on the book. This one is based on a hypothetical: What if FDR, instead of winning his third term as president in 1940 and going on to lead the nation to victory in WWII, lost the election to the iconic aviation hero Charles Lindbergh, a notorious anti-Semite who ran on an anti-war platform? And what if, subsequently, Lindbergh began moving the nation toward fascism and taking steps to isolate and remove America’s Jews? Roth makes us see this through the eyes of young Philip, his family and relatives living in a Jewish neighborhood in New Jersey. He carefully delineates an entirely plausible series of events made even more frightening by the realization, given the current drift toward fundamentalist extremism, that something like it could happen today. A too-tidy resolution mars the novel only slightly, and the brilliant interweaving of Roth’s own youthful persona, a provocative story and vividly evoked historical personages and events is marvelous.