Powells.com & The Morning News Present


Philip Roth (Houghton Mifflin)

The Plot Against America

vs. Heir to the Glimmering World

Cynthia Ozick (Houghton Mifflin)

Judged by Andrew Womack

There is a point a little over halfway through The Plot Against America when… and then total disaster was averted.

Oomph, what? That’s the very feeling I had reading Roth jerk his new novel straight off the first available cliff. His celebrated “what if” concept supposes what the United States might have been like had flying ace and rumored Nazi sympathizer Charles Lindbergh been elected president in 1940 instead of F.D.R.—and made anti-Semitism as American as apple pie. Properly written, how could this not be a great story?

Unfortunately, as anyone who’s watched the crew of the Starship Enterprise diddle with the space-time continuum knows: You can’t play with the past without changing the future. So when his readers are in the grips of wondering how the country is going to make its way out of the worsening stateside Nazi mess, and Roth informs us that “…it wasn’t until twenty-six years after…that a second presidential candidate would be gunned down—that was New York’s Democratic senator Robert Kennedy, fatally shot in the head after winning his party’s California primary on Tuesday, June 4, 1968.” Well, in a “what if” novel, that’s giving away the ending, isn’t it? In reading that awfully exact phrasing, we immediately know that history is again set back on its rightful course at some point in the next hundred pages; we just don’t know how it’s going to happen. And as much as we want to find out, an oddly abrupt ending almost doesn’t let us.

Practically flawless in its storytelling, however, is Heir to the Glimmering World, a rich achievement of a novel that invites the reader into the inner machinations of a family of exiled German Jews. It’s a beautiful story, beautifully told, but simply without as much to tell as The Plot Against America—flawed though that book may be.


Judge: Andrew Womack
Age: 31
Types of books you tend to read frequently:
Humor, fiction (all kinds), personal essays
Types of books you rarely read:
Contemporary non-fiction
Favorite book of all time:
If On a Winter's Night a Traveler.