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October 13, 2004

Can You Stand Yet Another Philip Roth Post?

by Ron Hogan

And just think how much I'd be posting about this book if I'd actually gotten around to reading it...but in the meantime, the husband-and-wife team of Judith Shulevitz and Nicholas Lemann let Slate readers in on their dialogue about the novel. Shulevitz starts by saying that, even if Roth warns us against reading The Plot as an allegory of our times, you might as well give in to the temptation. Lemann counters that it isn't allegorical at all:

The universal Jewish fear of pogroms is the main nerve Roth touches... not whatever fears his readers may have of the Bush administration, which are necessarily much shallower (except to the extent that they are expressions of the older, deeper fears).

Shulevitz isn't convinced yet, and asks herself "whether, when we are no longer able to read the book with the sense of urgency inspired by the present moment, it will still feel as necessary as it did when I read it this summer." It'll be interesting to see how this debate plays out in the days ahead... Meanwhile, Slate also has David Greenberg, who reminds us that Father Coughlin did manage to convince roving bands of street youth to assault Jews in the early 1940s, so that fear of pogroms was hardly an irrational one. It's part of a compelling rebuke to those who've suggested that "it couldn't have happened here;" it didn't, he agrees, but "in the 1930s the United States had not yet become the (largely) liberal and tolerant society of today."

And then, just before I left for my research this morning, Mark told me that Roth gave an interview to Nerve, which is funny, because this strikes me as perhaps his least sexy novels...but then he talks about Lindbergh most of the time anyway.

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