Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Plot Against America

So I was feeling really ambitious, and I had actually finished reading several books (probably more books than I've finished reading in months) and figured, What the Heck!, I'll start yet another blog, this one focusing on the books I've read.

I capture a blogspot address that actually ties in with this plan, set it up ... and then it just sits there. Just as the book I was reading makes use as nothing more than a coaster for the past two weeks and I develop an unhealthy obsession with computer darts.

But darn it all, if I didn't finally finish Philip Roth's The Plot Against America last night, charging me up to think that once again I might be able to get past that biting off more than I can chew thing.

Philip Roth is one of those great contemporary American writers that I had never gotten around to reading until I picked up The Plot Against America. Sure I've heard of Goodbye Columbus and Portnoy's Complaint, but in my mind, I've always associated those books with some kind of shag-carpeted, orange counter top version of literature that was slightly before my time and that I was never too interested in. And now it looks like I'm going to have to reevaluate all that.

First off, it almost boggles the mind to think that Roth has written a book this good, this powerful, intriguing and well-written almost 50 years after he had his first success with Goodbye Columbus in 1959. If anyone can think of another novel who is (or was) still at the top of his game for such a long stretch of time, please let me know, because I'm having trouble thinking of anyone else who fits that description.

In The Plot Against America, Roth takes what could easily be a gimmicky conceit (Lindbergh defeats Roosevelt in 1940) and turns into into a convincing alternate history as seen through the eyes of a young Jewish boy and his family in Newark, New Jersey. Like the best histories (real or otherwise), Roth brings the tumultuous events of the world down to a human level. While the alternate history adds color to the novel, it works best as a coming-of-age story of a young (semi)fictional Philip Roth.

Now that I realized what I've been missing by ignoring Philip Roth for all these years, I've already made it to the library and checked out The Great American Novel. You can expect an update, well, sometime soon, maybe.