Powells.com & The Morning News Present


Philip Roth (Houghton Mifflin)

The Plot Against America

vs. The Bad Boy’s Wife

Karen Shepard (St. Martin’s)

Judged by Claire Miccio

I really wanted to like The Plot Against America. Alternate historical fiction that resonates with present day politics? By Roth? It sounds really promising, doesn’t it? By all means, the novel should have been exciting: a Jewish family living in Newark in the 1940s, trying their best to keep it together in the wake of a corrupt and anti-Semitic presidency led by Nazi sympathizer Charles Lindbergh. The problem is that Roth, as both the child and adult narrator, switches uncomfortably back and forth between a narrative tone and a journalistic tone and, as a result, fails to convince me of either.

The Bad Boy’s Wife is a family drama about Hannah, a well-to-do woman, her failed marriage to horse-trainer Cole, and its effect on their—you guessed it—precocious daughter, Mattie. The sex scenes are laughable, and it’s beyond me how everyone considers cowboy Cole a catch. However, I must say Shepard does get through the story well; her prose is simple and she works the relationship reverse chronologically so you see the mistakes with Hannah’s retrospect.

It was difficult to choose a winner between these two books because I honestly wasn’t into either of them. Even so, The Plot Against America scores higher than The Bad Boy’s Wife. Roth is an incredible wordsmith and there are a few notable passages in the book—it’s just that some sifting is required.

Winner: The Plot Against America

Judge: Claire Miccio
Age: 21
Types of books you tend to read frequently:
Melancholy novels with dark humor and strange beauty
Types of books you rarely read:
Military history
Favorite book of all time:
Madame Bovary; As I Lay Dying; Mrs. Dalloway.