The God of Roth

There’s been tons of Philip Roth coverage. Here’s Michiko, who didn’t like the book but made a strenuous effort to demonstrate that she knows whereof she speaks:

“In his provocative but lumpy new novel, “The Plot Against America,” Mr. Roth tries to imagine an alternate fate for the United States with the highest possible stakes. What if, he asks, the flying ace Charles A. Lindbergh had defeated Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1940 election, and what if Lindbergh (who in real life articulated anti-Semitic sentiments and isolationist politics) had instituted a pro-Nazi agenda?

Of course, this brand of historical fiction (or “counterfactual” history) is hardly new. In “It Can’t Happen Here,” Sinclair Lewis created a portrait of the United States as a fascist dictatorship under the rule of a New England demagogue. In “The Man in the High Castle,” Philip K. Dick conjured up a Japanese- and-Nazi-occupied America in which slavery was legal again and Jews hid behind assumed names. In “SS-GB,” Len Deighton imagined a Nazi-occupied Britain in which Churchill had been executed. And in “Fatherland,” Robert Harris postulated a world in which the Nazis had won World War II and covered up the Holocaust.”

Roth wrote a wonderful piece about the story behind the novel, also for the NYT. Al Alvarez did a great profile for The Guardian:

“Roth’s monkish routine is at odds with what he once called his “reputation as a crazed penis” bestowed on him by Portnoy’s Complaint, his great panegyric to the comedy of sex. When Portnoy was published in 1969, it seemed to epitomise the anarchic spirit of the decade. Maybe it did, but the author himself was a product of the 1950s, the last generation of well-behaved, sternly educated children who believed in high culture and high principles and lived in the nuclear shadow of the cold war until their orderly world was blown apart by birth-control pills and psychedelic drugs. Portnoy was considered outrageous when it appeared, but the real outrage was Roth’s and he was outraged because he couldn’t help being a good boy however much he yearned to be bad.”

Oh, and Kentuckians thinks he besmirched the fair name of the state.

“Before reading Roth’s latest novel, a fever-dream venture into the alternate history genre, I had never given much thought to which state could serve as America’s own version of Dachau. Which state would be judged the stupidest, most Aryan-infused, Stepford-citizen population in America: where a tolerance-preaching presidential candidate could be assassinated and a fascist president could mesmerize the dim-bulb citizenry a few days later by declaring that, hey, at least the nation is at peace?”

I kind of like the bit where the writer accuses Roth of picking on West Virginia too.

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