What begins as a gripping piece of “What if…” fiction completely falls apart with a rushed and wholly unsatisfactory conclusion.
Beginning in 1940, Roth imagines FDR losing his bid for a third term to Charles Lindbergh, aviation hero and Nazi sympathizer. To the horror of American Jews, President Lindbergh fulfills his promise to keep America out of WWII by signing friendly agreements with Japan and Germany, turning a blind eye as these military powers invade and rampage countries around the globe. Meanwhile, on the home front, a young Philip Roth and his fictional family grapple with the subtle and sinister effects of life under the new world order.
Roth sets up his premise in a thoroughly plausible scenario, as Lindbergh campaigns on a “Vote for Lindbergh or vote for war” platform. The paranoia and fear reverberating through the New Jersey community where the Roths live begins to chip away at their ordered family life. The author successfully melds a coming-of-age story with the larger political thriller in a manner that’s personal, believable and very unsettling.
Unfortunately, the story is completely undermined by a contrived turn of events that does the rest of the book a real disservice. After such careful plotting of politics and character, reading the hurried resolution of both the bigger picture and the individual stories weaving through it is a lot like having the proverbial rug pulled right out from under you.
An incredible disappointment but one that will make for a fascinating book club discussion I’m sure.