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Ontology on the gone!

The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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04/22/2005 Archived Entry: "Book review: The Plot Against America"

The Plot Against America
By Philip Roth
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin 2004, ISBN 0618509283, Hardcover, 400 pages.

Review by Richard Mellott

The first thing I noticed about this book is the cover. With a large swastika on the front, and the title in bold, I didn't feel comfortable carrying the book around in public. Being a tall white guy with short hair, I thought the impression might be negative. Several people who visited my place asked me about the book, so the cover is certainly an eye-catcher. The premise of Lindbergh being elected as a pro-Nazi president, and having an anti-Jewish homeland policy, is the foundation of the book, which is close enough to what almost happened with the isolationist movement in both WWI and WWII to make it eerily close to historical truth.

The next item that caught my attention was the relatively young protagonist -- 9 year old Phillip Roth. Written as an autobiographical memoir, the problem I had was the elaborate and extensive recall this precocious child had of his experiences during a time admittedly back quite a few years. The age of the protagonist kept me from fully accepting the viewpoint, as well as the character's reaction to the events. Don't get me wrong, it's a good story, and definitely a scary possibility given the closeness to the reality of those times, it's just that I wasn't happy with the perspective. I would have preferred an adult making some of the observations, although a child's eye on the proceedings was kinda cute! The boy just couldn't convince me of several of the major themes, and was unable to sufficiently characterize the horror felt by those around him, as their world crumbled.

The intriguing part of this story was the way the author unfolded the political process so neatly. He was able to demonstrate how broad-scale happenings can affect the people, down to a young boy and his peers in a New Jersey neighborhood. The trickle-down effect of choosing the president, and of the policies that seem so rational on the National political campaign trail, but have such a different interpretation at the ground level are so very explicitly drawn. One has only to compare that to our present day situation, and the result is rather scary. The recent elections of a president who is a right wing religious fanatic, and a pope who was in the Hitler Youth, and you get my drift. However, nothing compares to the insidious manner in which he gets inside the head of the family's father, and displays the anger and indignation that go along with the feelings of helplessness in the face of what seems like such a clear threat to survival.

So long as Americans are able to publish mainstream novels that unravel the thought processes of those in power, and represent the Emperor's new clothing for what it is, we have hope. Our fearless leaders should not be so fearless, because we are still here. Question authority, and question the authors of our time. Thank you, Mr. Roth, for stepping up to the plate once again. Your display of courage should not go unrewarded.

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