I published this article at that time, but I thought I would repost it. If you haven't read this novel, don't buy it. Get it at the library.
I don't know how the churlish and ignoble Philip Roth remains upright, the way his moral compass is spinning so madly. The author, who made his name with the more-than-a-little-semi-pornographic Portnoy's Complaint, which titillated a 12-year-old me and my classmates so much the teacher confiscated the book, has now with his last novel (I hope), The Plot Against America, used this farrago of vitriol to spin himself right into a place where good is evil, and evil, good.
I'll wager that George Orwell would have seen Roth's book as an example of Lies are Truth, Ignorance is Strength and War is Peace (and in Roth's case, Cowardice is Bravery). The novel is odious, libelous and just plain disgusting -- especially the grotesque and sickening comments about a murdered baby. Maybe we need a neologism: "libelodious." More cheerful is the idea of using Roth's name, as in "He Rothed him," meaning "a truly dishonest and reprehensible man told blatant and transparent lies about a good man."
The man libeled is Charles Lindbergh, who was about as close to a true hero as America produced in the 20th century. Roth libels him as a frothing-at-the-mouth anti-Semite, and a crypto-Nazi just waiting, faster than an eyeblink, to turn into the hillbilly version of Hitler.
Roth also libels America, which he apparently believes is always on the verge of toppling into a kinder, gentler Nazi Germany. Actually, he libels everything west of New York City as a horrifying, undifferentiated mass of drooling, gap-toothed, tobacco-juice-spittin', banjo-playing, five-year-old-girl chasin' troglodytes jes' awaitin' to lynch Jews from the nearest tree.
The focus of evil in Rothworld is Kentucky, a place which to him takes up 90% of Flyover Land. I get the impression Roth truly believes that if he was to ever leave Brooklyn, everyone west of it would have eyes about an inch apart, and drag their knuckles on the ground when they weren't picking their noses, farting in church or hitching their crotches up in public. I guess he believes Kentucky is the breeding chamber for those hundreds of millions of Morlocks overrunning America.
The Plot Against America is actually an excruciatingly bad science-fiction novel, of a sub-genre called "alternate history." Roth should have stayed with his specialty, "autobiographical pornography written by a dirty-minded neurotic Jew who cruelly verbally abused his ex-wife and her daughter, was a drug addict, and checked himself into and out of mental institutions."
In Plot, Charles Lindbergh beats FDR for the nomination in 1940, and becomes President. Now would have happened if this eminently sane event had come to pass? Lindbergh, a true patriot who was an anti-interventionist in the mold of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, would have kept the U.S. out of World War II. There would have been peace, Roth forbid.
Instead,in Roth's confabulations, Lindbergh instantly turns a compliant America into the Hillbilly Reich, the inhabitants of which immediately start whoopin' and yeehawin' because they don't have to send their sons to die in another European war, and instead let their anti-Semitic bloodlust, which Roth thinks is in their DNA, take control of their 70 IQ heads.
Roth will have none of this peace-mongering. He writes of FDR, who really was a semi-fascist and pro-Communist, as a great President unfortunately voted out of office by people who should have been grateful he was going to get them disassembled as cannon fodder by the hundreds of thousands.
He also cheers Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson as great presidents. Apparently, Roth has no education at all.
As for FDR, he maneuvered the Japanese into attacking Pearl Harbor by cutting off their oil and sending the Flying Tigers against them in China. There is substantial evidence he knew Pearl Harbor was going to be attacked -- indeed, he moved the fleet there from the safety of California -- and wanted war with Japan so Stalin (whom he called "Uncle Joe") wouldn't have to fight a two-front war against the Germans and Japanese. If Roth knows about any of this, I'm sure he doesn't believe it. Or if he does believe it, perhaps he agrees with it.
Lindbergh, who was a fine writer and speaker, is portrayed as having even less ability to speak than the stumble-tongued George Bush. He starts a program with the improbable name of "Just Folks," in which Jewish city boys are sent into the country to be Nazified. One of Roth's relatives returns from this hillbilly Dante's Inferno with a taste for ham and bacon, the Devil's Food, which, Roth, gasping in horror, claims destroys his ability to draw and also makes him enjoy picking tobacco and milking cows. Another is forced to move to Kentucky by the federal government, and almost instantly becomes so retarded he can do little more than intone, "Do you like cookies and milk? I like cookies and milk."
Still another, a mother, is murdered -- it's hard to write this with a straight face -- "alongside a potato field" in the Hell-on-Earth know as -- brr!-- Paducah, Kentucky! Leaving her poor son with no parents at all!
Roth also spends an entire chapter on his cousin, who lost part of his leg in the war. He spends that chapter writing in exquisite detail of his cousin's swollen, oozing, scabby, and -- to Roth's oh-so-delicate little-girl sensibilities -- horrifying stump (this is when he's not telling us about his cousin's masturbatory spraying of semen all over the place as he watches little girls though a basement window). The chapter title? Not surprisingly, "The Stump."
Roth is not only terrified of the Midwest, which in his twisted, demented little brain starts one millimeter west of the Hudson River, he also swoons in horror at Catholicism, with its "witchy" nuns and "mortician-like" priests.
And, I'll have to admit, I've never read a novel in which all those Catholic Nazi hillbillies infesting Kentucky join the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party, then break out the kerosene-soaked crosses they've been hiding in their basements, which they hurl at anyone who they think looks like a Jew.
There are even anti-Semitic riots in St. Louis, a place in which I have lived, and where the only semi-riots occurred when the German consulate hung a Nazi flag outside their window, and the gathered crowd got so upset the police had to be called. But Roth does not know these things, having created history out of his pointy little head.
The novel is preposterous and surreal to the point of hilarity. Anti-Jewish pogroms in Cleveland? What next, death camps run by the Simpsons, with Lisa as She-Wolf of the SS?
I won't give the ending away, except to say that a cackling Roth gets to engage in his version of genocide against all those inbred 'Tuckians. I'll also say he has gotten the truth backwards and upside down, and in doing so has written a truly repellent anti-Christian, anti-American, anti-human novel, one of the worst I have ever read. If he's got the ability, the man should be ashamed of himself.
At the end of his career Roth shows himself to be as he started it -- paranoid, hate-filled, envious, narcissistic, utterly self-absorbed and utterly self-deluded. As a novelist he will be forgotten. As a decent and honorable man, he never was one.