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In review: Philip Roth and Michael Connelly

The Plot Against America

Philip Roth is one of America&

s preeminent authors. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1997, for &

American Pastoral,&

he received the National Medal of Arts at the White House in 1998 and was awarded the Gold Medal in Fiction by he American Academy of Arts and Letters.

If you are a fan of Roth, admire his deep talent as a writer, then &

The Plot Against America&

is a must read. For those who found &

American Pastoral&

a tour de force, and hope for more of the same, well, &

The Plot&

might just be a pass.

The novel does demonstrate that Roth possesses a literary imagination that is wide-ranging, and his ability to create out of whole cloth a narrative that has absolutely the ring of historical truth, is remarkable. What he does is take a moment in history, the reelection of Franklin Roosevelt for a third term, and posits the idea that Charles A. Lindbergh, the heroic aviator, wins not only the Republican nomination, but carries the election. He then imagines a world in which the views of Lindbergh sweep the nation. Roth characterizes Lindbergh as a staunch isolationist, a man who goes on to negotiate a cordial understanding with Hitler, and then embarks on policies that seem at face value benign, but reveal a deep anti-Semitism. He is also a national hero, and is worshipped just long enough to do real damage to American institutions.

Roth tells this tale from the point of view of a young Jewish boy growing up in Newark, New Jersey. He watches as the impact of the election of Lindbergh begins to register with the Jewish community, and especially with his father, who is strongly anti-Lindburgh and convinced that American pogroms will soon sweep the Jews away. It is only a matter of time. He even contemplates taking his family to Canada.

Of course, for Roth to sustain the abiding sense of verisimilitude that holds the novel together, he must figure out a way to end Lindbergh&

s tenure as president. It presents a narrative problem for him, one that is not all that satisfyingly resolved.

Because Roth is a gifted writer, the plot is, at times, engaging. But there is also a quality to the novel that seems contrived, as if Roth wanted to drive home the idea that Jews, no matter the geography, will never feel completely safe. Anywhere. Not even in America. That anti-Semitism is latent, ever present, and it is only a matter of history creating opportunity for it to reemerge. History clearly bears him out. But whether that belief is sufficient or robust enough to create an entire story, is debatable.

The Lincoln Lawyer

Michael Connelly, winner of an Edgar Award for his outstanding writing, has few peers. His mystery series featuring Harry Bosch, a Los Angeles detective, have won over thousands of readers. &

Void Moon,&


Chasing he Dime,&


Blood Work&

are excellent examples. They are gritty, interesting, and the serial character Bosch only gets better with each of Connelly&

s novels.

In &

The Lincoln Lawyer,&

Connelly leaves the world of Bosch and creates his first legal thriller. It&

s a world he is not as comfortable inhabiting as that of the detective procedural and it shows. His plotting is not as tight, and the sense of Mickey Haller, the novel&

s protagonist, is that he is someone who is a bit of a stranger, still, to Connelly. There are some nice twists and turns &

even when Connelly is off his game he&

s still on &

and a surprise at the end, but it is impossible to read this novel and not compare it to some of the previous books, which all cast collectively one heck of a long shadow.

Connelly was a police reporter for the L.A. Times for some years and covered the crime beat. It&

s a milieu where he is comfortable and knows his way around. Plus he has created a character in Harry Bosch that is unique, likable, yet hugely flawed. Over many novels the existential angst of Bosch becomes ever more precarious and yet appealing.

This trait is that Haller lacks, though not for want of trying. Being a criminal defense attorney in LA, living out of the city courthouse where the traffic in human depravity is a steady stream, makes for an abundance of self-doubt. Perhaps, with time, Haller will come into his own. For now, he&

s got a ways to go to reach Bosch&

s cul-de-sac of courageous spiritual ennui.