Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Plot Against America - Philip Roth

You should not expect a lot of blog posts between here and the end of the month.  In fact, it is very possible that this will be my only post for the month.  I am getting married on October 20 and, frankly, am a little busy.  However, I already have a list of books that will be joining me on the beach in Jamaica and I am practically giddy over the idea of having time to read again.  To not just read as a quick thirty minute break from life, but to spend whole hours at a time curled up with a book.  While I am dreadfully behind in my goal for the year, I have no doubt that I will conquer it.  

On to the matter at hand: The Plot Against America.  I love the idea of this book.  Philip Roth has written what could be described as a fictional memoir.  He writes in first person as though he is recalling his childhood spent during the WWII years in Newark, NJ.  The twist, though, is that Roth's history is far from accurate.  He presents an imagined scenario in which fascist aviator Charles Lindbergh wins the presidency and keep America from entering the war.  As a history buff, the concept interested me enough to pick up the book.  Unfortunately, as engaging as the idea was, the execution was not.

At its core, this is a typical coming of age story; Roth's push into adolescence, though, is atypical.  His eyes open gradually to the reality of antisemitism in his own country and the destruction of war.  His older cousin, Alvin, runs off to Canada to fight Hitler and returns with a stump in place of a leg.  His older brother plays the part of rebellious teenager and buys into the programs and ideals of a government poised to persecute his own family.  Roth, still a small child, struggles to interpret all that is happening in his world.  His family, his friends, his country are all in turmoil.

Again, in concept, the idea of this book is fascinating.  What if history had played out differently?  This very topic was explored in a book I read earlier this year by Stephen King.  I also read about the WWII era back in February and enjoyed that work.  Yet, Roth's story somehow remains bogged down in inconsequential details.  Perhaps, if this was how history has actually played out, the story would have made more sense to me.  The focus on young Philip and the details happening in his life would have fit into a history with which I was already familiar.  Instead, I found his child's perspective distracting from what had drawn me to the book in the first place: modified history.  Even the history that did appear felt weighty and too detail oriented to me.  The chapters were long and the plot moved slowly.  

I will be the first to admit, it is entirely possible that I am missing what Roth intended to be a beautiful simplicity in seeing complex situations from a naive perspective.  Yet, even in doing that, the author must progress the story at a faster rate to hold my attention.  Maybe I am spoiled on quick paced young adult novels and action movies.  Maybe not.  I am not one to shy away from a difficult or lengthy read.  I crave depth and character development, both of which could be argued appear in Roth's work.  Still, there is a certain something missing here.  My best guess is that I simply do not connect with the character of a young boy living in a history that never existed.

What revisionist history Roth did write interested me.  The idea of America turning against one of its own diverse people groups is not far fetched   In fact, it reminded me of how American Muslims must have felt right after September 11.  In a time of political turmoil, as we face the upcoming election, we can use a reminder that every election counts and the men and women we place in office do wield power and influence and can change the course of history.  
Overall, I doubt that I would recommend this book to anyone besides a WWII buff.  I am happy to have it making its return to the library where I shall exchange it for several books on which I am eager to get my hands.  I apologize in advance for my lack of posts.  Fear not.  I shall return with a fury in the final two months of the year.  I promise that, if there is anyone out there reading this, you will want to stay tuned for what is in store.  I am excited about the books I am choosing to finish out the year and I cannot wait to share them with you!

Have you ever been excited about a book only to be disappointed once you actually read it?  What books are you looking forward to reading over the next few months?  

Pages: 391
Date Completed: October 9, 2012

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