The Plot Against America

Ron Rosenbaum has gotten his hands on a galley copy of Philip Roth’s new novel, due for release in October. He doesn’t tell us much that we didn’t already know — that it’s an alternative-future novel in which the pro-fascist, anti-Semitic Charles Lindbergh follows his victory over FDR in 1940 by signing non-agression pacts with Germany and Japan. What I didn’t know is that it is told from the perspective of the Roth family of Newark, NJ, including nine-year-old Philip, and that the Roths and other urban Jews are encouraged by the Lindbergh administration to relocate to rural areas, where their “American Absorption” might be completed.

What a conceit! I’m excited to learn that Roth is melding his recent interests in mid-century American history with the more experimental projects of the late-80s and early-90s — Operation Shylock, in particular. I can’t think of another American novelist who could pull it off right now. Given Rosenbaum’s enthusiasm for the novel — he read its 390 pages in one night — I’m getting downright giddy.

Rather than discuss the particular details of The Plot Against America, Rosenbaum chases several tangents, the most interesting of which involves Steven Spielberg and Mel Gibson. Several years ago, Spielberg optioned the rights to A. Scott Berg’s biography of Lindbergh, but after making Schindler’s List and learning of Lindbergh’s support of fascism and his anti-Semitism, Spielberg slowed development of his film project. Rosenbaum suggests that the director drop it entirely and adapt Roth’s new novel instead. Doing so would allow Spielberg to treat the subject with a little due rage, while also responding to Mel Gibson’s latest blockbuster. (As Frank Rich notes, Spielberg has been unusually quiet about The Passion). I especially like this bit:

making movies with the solemn burden of “creating tolerance” is not always the best way of evoking an artist’s best work. A dip into Mr. Roth’s rage might be just the thing for Mr. Spielberg, fire him up again. While there are other directors who could make this a great film, Mr. Spielberg’s feel for the Amazing Stories pastiche mystique of the period, his intuitive feel for communicating the emotion beneath the surface of pop-culture obsessions, make one hope he could bring some of the sizzle to Mr. Roth’s steak that would make it a powerful film, an event. No rides, no toys, but an event.