The Plot Against America
eBook - ePub

The Plot Against America

A Novel

Philip Roth

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  1. 400 pagine
  2. English
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eBook - ePub

The Plot Against America

A Novel

Philip Roth

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Philip Roth's bestselling alternate history—the chilling story of what happens to one family when America elects a charismatic, isolationist president—is soon to be an HBO limited series. In an extraordinary feat of narrative invention, Philip Roth imagines an alternate history where Franklin D. Roosevelt loses the 1940 presidential election to heroic aviator and rabid isolationist Charles A. Lindbergh. Shortly thereafter, Lindbergh negotiates a cordial "understanding" with Adolf Hitler, while the new government embarks on a program of folksy anti-Semitism. For one boy growing up in Newark, Lindbergh's election is the first in a series of ruptures that threaten to destroy his small, safe corner of America–and with it, his mother, his father, and his older brother. "A terrific political novel... Sinister, vivid, dreamlike... creepily plausible... You turn the pages, astonished and frightened." — The New York Times Book Review

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Informazioni

Anno
2004
ISBN
9780547345314
5

March 1942–June 1942

Never Before

Here’s how Alvin came to have it in for Sandy. Before leaving him alone on the morning of his first Monday back, my mother had made Alvin promise to use his crutches to get around on until one of us was home to fetch for him. But Alvin so despised being on crutches that he refused even by himself to submit to the stability they provided. At night, when we were in our beds and the lights were out, Alvin would get me laughing by explaining why crutching wasn’t so simple as my mother thought. “You go to the bathroom,” Alvin said, “and they’re always falling. They’re always clattering. They’re always making a fucking noise. You go to the bathroom, you’ve got these crutches, you try to get your cock, and you can’t get your cock because your crutches are in the way. You gotta get rid of the crutches. Then you’re standing on one leg. That’s not so good. You lean one way or another, you splatter all over the place. Your father tells me to sit down to piss. Know what I say? ‘I’ll sit when you do, Herman.’ Fucking crutches. Standing on one leg. Taking your dick out. Jesus. Pissing is hard enough to do as it is.” I’m laughing uncontrollably now not only because the story is especially funny as he half whispers it in the darkened room, but because never before has a man revealed himself to me this way, using the prohibited words so freely and openly cracking toilet jokes. “Come on,” Alvin says, “own up to it, kiddo—pissing’s not something that’s as easy as it looks.”
Once Alvin was out and around in the neighborhood, he hadn’t to rely only on Sandy’s Lindbergh drawings to realize that, while he’d been making raids on ammo depots in France, Roosevelt’s Republican successor had come to be, if not entirely trusted by the Jews, accepted as tolerable for the time being even among those of our neighbors who had started out hating him as passionately as my father did. Walter Winchell persisted in attacking the president on his Sunday-night radio show, and everybody on the block devotedly tuned him in to give credence, while they listened, to his alarming interpretations of the president’s policies, but as nothing that they feared had come to pass since the inauguration, our neighbors slowly began putting more faith in Rabbi Bengelsdorf’s optimistic assurances than in Winchell’s dire prophecies. And not just the neighbors but Jewish leaders all over the country began openly to acknowledge that Newark’s Lionel Bengelsdorf, far from having betrayed them by endorsing Lindy in the 1940 election, had been prescient enough to see where the nation was headed and that his elevation to the directorship of the Office of American Absorption—and the administration’s foremost adviser on Jewish affairs—was the direct result of his having cleverly gained Lindbergh’s confidence as an early supporter. If the president’s anti-Semitism had somehow been neutralized (or, more remarkably, eradicated), Jews were willing to attribute the miracle to the influence of the venerable rabbi who was soon to become—another miracle—an uncle by marriage to Sandy and me.
One day early in March I wandered over, uninvited, to the dead-end street backing onto the school playground where Alvin had begun shooting craps and playing stud poker if the afternoon was warm enough and it wasn’t raining. He was rarely in the house anymore when I got home after school, and though generally he made it back by five-thirty for dinner, after dessert he’d head out to the hotdog hangout a block from our house to meet up with his old high school friends, a few of whom used to pump gas at the Esso station owned by Simkowitz and had been fired along with him for stealing from the boss. I’d be asleep by the time he got in for the night, and only when he removed his leg and began hopping to and from the bathroom did I open my eyes and mumble his name before falling back to sleep. Some seven weeks after he’d moved into the bed beside mine, I ceased to be indispensable and abruptly found myself bereft of the mesmeric surrogate he’d been for Sandy, vanished now from my side into the stardom masterminded for him by Aunt Evelyn. The maimed and suffering American pariah who had come to loom larger for me than any man I’d ever known, including my father, whose passionate struggles had become my own, whose future I fretted over when I should have been listening to the teacher in class, had begun to buddy up with the same good-for-nothings who’d helped turn him into a petty thief at sixteen. What he appeared to have lost in combat, along with his leg, was every decent habit inculcated in him when he was living as my parents’ ward. Nor did he display any interest in the fight against fascism, which, two years earlier, no one could restrain him from joining. In fact, why he went scooting out of the house on his artificial leg every night was, at the beginning anyway, largely to avoid having to sit in the living room while my father read the war news aloud from the paper.
I found Alvin down on the good knee of the real leg, dice in hand and the pile of bills beside him secured by a jagged chunk of cement. With the prosthetic leg jutting straight out in front of him, he looked like a squatting Russian dancing one of those crazy Slavic jigs. There were six other gamblers tightly encircling him, three still in the game, clutching what was left of their dough, two who were broke and just standing around—whom I vaguely recognized as ex-Weequahic washouts now in their twenties—and the long-legged guy hovering over him, Alvin’s “partner,” as it turned out, Shushy Margulis, a skinny zoot-suiter with a sinewy build and a gliding gait, the hanger-on from Alvin’s gas station days whom my father most despised. Shushy was known to us kids as the Pinball King because a racketeer uncle whom he boasted about was the pinball king—and king as well of all illegal slots down in Philadelphia, where he reigned—and also because of the hours he spent racking up scores by banging away at the pinball machines in the neighborhood candy stores, shoving the machine, cursing it, violently shaking it from side to side until play was terminated either by the colored lights flashing “Tilt” or by the store owner chasing him out. Shushy was the famous comedian who entertained his admirers by gleefully tossing lit matches into the mouth of the big green mailbox across from the high school, and who had once eaten a live praying mantis on a bet, and who, during his short-lived academic career, liked to hand the crowd a laugh outside the hotdog hangout by limping across Chancellor Avenue with one hand raised to stop the oncoming traffic—limping badly, tragically, though nothing was wrong with him. By this time he was already into his thirties and still living with his seamstress mother in one of the little flats at the top of a two-and-a-half-family house next door to the synagogue on Wainwright Street. It was to Shushy’s mother, known sympathetically to one and all as “poor Mrs. Margulis,” that my mother had taken Alvin’s pants to have the zippers sewn in—poor Mrs. Margulis not merely because she survived as a widow by doing piecework at slave wages for a Down Neck dress manufacturer but because her sharpie son seemed never to have held a job other than as a runner for the bookie who worked out of the poolroom around the corner from their house and just down the street from the Catholic orphanage on Lyons Avenue.
There was a chain-link fence about seven feet high at the edge of the playground on the near side of Goldsmith Avenue and a wire fence set in posts at the wooded edge of the truck farm on the far side, and since no houses had as yet gone up anywhere nearby and there was never much foot or automobile traffic to speak of, an almost sylvan seclusion was conveniently provided there for the neighborhood’s tiny handful of losers to pursue their pleasures out of harm’s way. The closest I’d ever come to one of these sinister conclaves before was when, during some playground game, I’d had to chase a ball that had rolled to where they all huddled together just beyond the fence, uttering imprecations at one another and saving their sweet talk for the dice.

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