The Taser's Edge

The Plot Against America by Philip Roth

In The Plot Against America, Philip Roth imagines a tweaked history of the United States.  In the other 1940, American aviator, celebrity, anti-Semite, and isolationist Charles Lindbergh wins the Republican nomination.  Campaigning on the argument that a vote for FDR is a vote for war, he wins the election handily.  After Lindbergh becomes president, the US signs a non-agression pact with Nazi Germany.  This book follows what this all means through the eyes of a Jewish family in Newark, and particularly through the eyes of a small boy in that family named Philip Roth.

I call it ‘tweaked history’ rather than ‘alternate history’ because the book, or at least the first 3/4 of it, is eerily plausible.  So plausible that it was actually difficult for me to  read at long stretches.  One of the most difficult sections is when the Roths take a family trip to see the sites of Washington, DC.

There they visit the Lincoln Memorial and hear anti-Semitic comments directed at them at its base, return to their hotel to learn that they are being asked to leave with the excuse that their reservation booked months before is no good, then they stand in the street as President Lindbergh flies over the city piloting an Air Force jet and the crowds around them erupt in cheers.  I can believe that scenes similar to this have actually been experienced by minority families in the US capital.

The plausibility continues as the American Jewish community divides over how to approach Lindbergh’s administration, whether or not to believe growing rumors that there are programs underway in collusion with Nazi Germany to answer the Jewish Question in North America.  Some prominent Jewish leaders cozy up to the administration and are rewarded with jobs and celebrity, while those who fight new moves to politely yet coercively relocate Jews are labeled as fear-mongers not to be listened to.

Not to ruin the book, I will only say that I don’t think that Roth pulled off the ending, although I don’t think it would have been at all pleasant if he had written an ending in continuity with the rest of the book.

My basic take: if you’re interested in history, race in America, World War II, or trying out Philip Roth as an author, this is definitely worth your time, despite some disappointment near the end.