A good idea well executed, The Plot Against America lacks punch and so it took me sometime to read. Nevertheless, it’s hard not to be impressed by Roth’s creation of a parallel history of the United States in which Charles Lindbergh defeated Franklin D. Roosevelt to become president in 1940.
The pioneering aviator whose son was so famously kidnapped, was sympathetic to the Nazis and not without political support. The story of his presidency is revealed through the experience of a very young Philip Roth and his Jewish family, not all of whom accept an increasingly weakened patriarch’s belief that although America is on the verge of fascism, it is still their country.
The Plot Against America is a somewhat scholarly work and I found myself continually consulting the lengthy postscript with its biographies and ‘true history’ of the era; checking against reality. Where the novel finds success (and the postscript enhances this) is in capturing the spirit of the era, its zeitgeist. And young Philip’s story is compelling. But none of the characters we meet are really players. All are buffeted by history and while that’s certainly credible, it’s somehow dissatisfying too. The novel lacks a hero (or anti-hero) we can get close to, follow and truly care about. Helpless young Philip is a protagonist to pity rather than root for.
Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates