I happen to be reading The Plot Against America on this day before “the generation’s most important election” (they always say that, and they’re always right).
The book is dead on about the melting-pot insanity of America, and how a small boy’s imagination can get colored and shaped by larger world affairs. It’s f-in’ brilliant.
The cool part of that is that I’ve always hated Roth. Maybe it’s just too close to me, but his early famous Zuckerman stuff with all the “insight” about an assimilated and over-horny Jewish psyche seems like suck obvious, easy pickin’. But most of his recent novels, featuring a narrator named Philip Roth, are just so damn wise, politically sweeping, psychologically revealing, and delightfully constructed at every turn. American Pastoral is on my personal hit list — one of those novels that frustrates me deeply because no matter how flighty my delusions of grandeur get I don’t think I’ll ever be able to pen one of that quality.
Then there’s Woody Allen, whose early stuff is beyond human in its blend of the profane and holy-smoky. Those Annie Halls and Sleepers were so good, in fact, that he can get away with currency to spare making crappy melodramas in the entire later part of his career.
Others have noticed this career flip-flop, and the two gentlemen’s braided trajectory.
So here’s a toast, to you, to me, to America: May we all start out Allen and end up Roth. Of course, it usually doesn’t work that way.
As Paul Simon wrote for Leonard Bernstein’s opera Mass:
Half of the People Are Stoned and the Other Half Are Waiting for the Next Election
Good luck to you, whichever side of the aisle you may imagine yourself on.