THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA’s real strength, though, lies in its portrait of a family on the verge of disintegration and a nation in the grip of hysteria. The most moving parts of the book are about Bess and Herman, salt-of-the-earth types who battle valiantly to keep the family together as everything is going to pieces — even as they themselves are going to pieces. Near the end of the book, Roth gives each parent a great scene, a final bow on the stage of his imaginary fascist Amerika. (They are, after all, his own parents.)
Both involve Seldon, an intellectual, fatally sissy contemporary of Philip’s, who has been dispatched with his mother to live in Kentucky as part of the OAA relocation program. When Seldon’s mother fails to return from work one night, a panicked Seldon places a collect call to the only people he knows who might help him: the Roths in Newark, New Jersey. Mrs. Roth calms him down by getting him to eat a meal (“Listen to me, Seldon. Concentrate. Make yourself some toast, with the cereal. And use the butter. Butter it. And pour yourself a big glass of milk.”). Then, once it becomes apparent that Seldon’s mother will neverbe coming home — she’s been killed in a pogrom — Mr. Roth sets out in his car on a 1,500-mile cross-country trip through terrifying pro-Lindbergh goyim America to fetch him. He can’t help himself (“My father was a rescuer and orphans were his specialty”), and the trip nearly kills him.
But he survives and so, oddly, does America, despite the plot against it. Not only does this book have a surprisingly upbeat ending, it would also make a great movie. What could be more American than that?
THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA | By PHILIP ROTH | Houghton Mifflin 391 pages | $26 hardcover