Charles Lindbergh challenges Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential election and wins on a “stay out of Europe’s war” ticket. He then signs a peace treaty with Nazi Germany, and America begins to change. The story is told from the viewpoint of a little boy, Philip Roth, who lives with his family in a Jewish enclave of Newark, New Jersey. Roth’s (the author’s, not the narrator’s) exploration of this alternative history is fascinating, in large part because he builds it up just slow enough to feel plausible. Little changes here and there in treatment of the Jews seem inauspicious but none are terrible enough to seem completely absurd.
At times, the rhetoric in the book reminded me of some of the post 9/11 rhetoric, not because we live in a fascist state (we definitely don’t) and obviously not because our government has tried to keep us out of war (it clearly hasn’t). Rather, the use of patriotic language and symbolism to political ends, to the suppression of civil liberties for certain groups, feels just familiar enough to be scary.
Unfortunately, the story was simply to boring for me, nothing really ever happened. The unneeded detail bugged me. Plus the book falls apart at the end. The slow build-up that Roth so carefully engineers suddenly jumps to a fever pitch that feels absurd, followed by a terribly abrupt ending.