the "stifling heat of equatorial Newark," a terrifying
epidemic is raging, threatening the children of the New
Jersey city with maiming, paralysis, lifelong disability,
and even death. This is the startling theme of Philip Roth’s
wrenching new book: a wartime polio epidemic in the summer
of 1944 and the effect it has on a closely knit,
family-oriented Newark community and its children.
At the center of Nemesis
is a vigorous, dutiful
twenty-three-year-old playground director, Bucky Cantor, a
javelin thrower and weightlifter, who is devoted to his
charges and disappointed with himself because his weak eyes
have excluded him from serving in the war alongside his
contemporaries. Focusing on Cantor’s dilemmas as polio
begins to ravage his playground—and on the everyday
realities he faces—Roth leads us through every inch of
emotion such a pestilence can breed: the fear, the panic,
the anger, the bewilderment, the suffering, and the
Moving between the smoldering, malodorous
streets of besieged Newark and Indian Hill, a pristine
children’s summer camp high in the Poconos—whose "mountain
air was purified of all contaminants"—Roth depicts a decent,
energetic man with the best intentions struggling in his own
private war against the epidemic. Roth is tenderly exact at
every point about Cantor’s passage into personal disaster,
and no less exact about the condition of childhood.
Through this story runs the dark questions that haunt all
four of Roth’s late short novels, Everyman, Indignation,
and now Nemesis:
What kind of
accidental choices fatally shape a life? How does the
individual withstand the onslaught of circumstance?
No comments posted.