An alternate history where Franklin D. Roosevelt loses the 1940 presidential election to heroic aviator and rabid isolationist Charles A. Lindbergh, whose administration embarks on a program of folksy anti-Semitism and threatens to destroy one boy’s small corner of America.
...a historical novel, of a fantastic sort. In the book’s first paragraph, heading off all the true-to-life details, comes the statement that these events took place during the Lindbergh Administration … One of the glories of the book is its counterpoint of large and small, its zooming back and forth, from chapter to chapter, between world events and the reactions to them in the Roth household. On the night of the Republicans’ balloting, Weequahic is loud with radios, as tense Jews sit waiting to find out if a Nazi sympathizer is going to run for President of their country … One thing to notice is that the story is a fable... It’s not a prophecy; it’s a nightmare, and it becomes more nightmarish—and also funnier and more bizarre—as it goes along.
Hitler's allies rule the White House. Anti-Semitic mobs roam the streets. The lower-middle-class Jews of Weequahic, in Newark, N.J., cower in a second-floor apartment, trying to figure out how to use a gun to defend themselves. The novel is sinister, vivid, dreamlike, preposterous and, at the same time, creepily plausible … One of Roth's talents is the ability to spin the decibel dial as he writes dialogue, such that, in The Plot Against America, his little boys emit thin little sounds (which are rendered still more plaintive by shifting into present tense), and the father in his humbleness emits a slightly louder tone, and cousin Alvin a shriekier one. In this fashion, the tones ascend in volume until, at last, Franklin Roosevelt addresses an anti-Lindbergh rally at Madison Square Garden. Roosevelt sonorously declaims, in syllables so majestic that only dashes will suffice, ‘We – choose – freedom!’
The book’s premise — what happens to the Roth family of Newark, N.J., when Charles Lindbergh defeats Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential election and America descends into an orgy of anti-Semitism — is an embrace of the catastrophic anxieties Roth once rebelled against. He envisions the kind of America where, like it or not, he is a Jew first. But equally unexpected is the novel’s credibility: By setting it in a wholly imaginary history, Roth has paradoxically managed to write his most believable book in years … The nightmare of the Lindbergh presidency becomes, for Roth the novelist, a way of applying a brutal pressure to his father and mother, an experiment that reveals, in extremis, their true worth. At the moment of greatest crisis, each of them is called upon to act, and each shows the clarity of genuine courage, mobilized by their most deeply held ideals.