The following is an orphaned opinion by Nava Brahe. Disagree? Go ahead and add your side! Just login and post!
NAVA BRAHE: Philip Roth is one of the greatest living American authors. I have devoured almost every book he’s written, and his latest, Nemesis, doesn’t disappoint. What I find so wonderful about Roth’s fiction is that it is steeped in so much Jewish-American reality, you can’t help but love it; especially if you hail from Newark, New Jersey. For people of my generation, Newark is the punchline to countless jokes. For people of Roth’s generation, Newark was a bastion of “Jewishness” he simultaneously manages to revel in, and revile.
Nemesis tells the story of altruistic 23 year-old Bucky Cantor, another one of Roth’s Jewish athletes, who is prevented from serving in World War II because of extreme near-sightedness. Instead, Bucky presides over the playgrounds of Newark, teaching its youth how to play baseball, in the blistering summer heat. The summer is 1944, and when a polio outbreak claims several of Cantor’s playground charges, he attempts to wage his own private war against the dreaded childhood illness. When he realizes he is powerless against the virus, he escapes to a Pennsylvania summer camp to be with his girlfriend, away from polio-ridden Newark. Of course, polio is inescapable, as Cantor eventually learns.
The cautionary tale that is Nemesis is nothing new; In Roth’s hands, it takes on an almost apocalyptic feel, giving the reader the sense that the entire world might buckle under a raging polio epidemic. It doesn’t, but for a few moments, we are convinced it will. Bad things happening to good people is an all too familiar tale, but how we deal with the consequences, and move forward is what Roth is attempting to communicate to his readers. Yes, Bucky Cantor is a specimen; his major physical flaw, his eyes, most likely prevented him from becoming a war hero. Instead, he attempts to be a hero to the people of Newark, by attempting to rid the city of polio. When he fails to succeed, he runs away. You can never run away from your troubles, as Roth is so adept at pointing out. What we cannot face up to will follow us wherever we go; how we make our peace with our unique dilemmas is crucial to how we deal with them. Bucky Cantor’s young life was shaped by adversity; the more he acquired, the less prepared he was to deal with it. There is no way to know whether his myopia saved him from a terrible fate had he gone to war, but what he had to contend with in Newark was ultimately too much for him to bear.
Nemesis is by no means a “happy-go-lucky” novel. Roth has never penned anything like that. Regardless of the fact that the cautionary tale has been beaten to death in literature, Nemesis is still a worthwhile read. It is written by a man who, I believe, is a master of his craft. Philip Roth is an expert at getting his readers to delve below the surface of a story, and make his readers think. You don’t have to be Jewish to read a Philip Roth novel. If you are, it is bound to make you question your heritage, and be grateful for it at the same time.