Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Plot Against America

Why the frown, Philip?                   Ron's on the right.
Or How Ron Silver Saved Philip Roth.

If you're at all in the market for an alternate history of America from the late '30's through the mid-40's, one in which Charles Lindberg beats FDR to the presidency on an isolationist platform that includes an alliance with Hitler himself, then consider that The Plot Against America also happens to be penned by Pulitzer & National Book Award winning author Philip Roth and read aloud by the late great Ron Silver.

For the last reason alone, this book is entirely worth listening to in audio form.  In fact, while I was reading the text version, at points where the story shifted from the dramatic "showing" of this alternate-history through its effects on the Roth family members & their dynamics to a bogged-down "telling" of fictive political events sans drama, I switched to Silver's performance of the text on CD and his acting alone kept me spellbound. 

So in this very particular way, Ron saved Roth's book for me.

If you don't remember Silver, a few of his credits include a Tony for his performance in David Mamet's Speed the Plow as well as a strong showing in the role of real-life lawyer Alan Derschowitz in the movie Reversal of Fortune about the VonBulow trial.  But his most popularly-known role might be his Emmy-nominated turn as presidential campaign advisor Bruno Gianelli in TV's The West Wing.

And here's a short video in which you can experience for yourself his vocal character - perfect for the Newark-born narrator recalling his youth.  (Here, he plays Bruno, in this intense conversation with Rob Lowe and Richard Schiff reacting as Sam and Toby.)

And Silver was known for his political activism throughout his life.  He started out as a high school teacher and social worker, then graduated over time to co-founding the Creative Coalition (an entertainment industry political organization) to hosting his own XM radio show about politics and scoring a number of honorary positions under President George W. Bush.  )Rumor has it, though, that his last vote was for Obama as he judged each election separately and based his voting on issues rather than party lines.)  So a novel about how world and national politics destroy a local neighborhood and shatter a hardworking, upstanding middle-class family seems a near-perfect fit.

But what about the book?  I'm still contemplating what its impact will be on me, so I'll be brief:  It's well worth the read for its thought provoking glimpses into the way politics often works in America, and for making us re-think this period in history by offering an alternate progression of events, as well as a post-script with factual background info. on all the characters fictionalized here.  Also, when Roth focuses on scenes developing the dynamics and characters of 'his family' - the first person, seven-to-eleven-year-old narrator is named "Philip Roth" as well - the story shines.  He inhabits the young boy quite credibly and the slice-of-life inside view of Newark's Weequahic neighborhood back in the late '30's/early 40's is compelling both dramatically and atmospherically.

Action:  So far, I've invested 2 hours researching Silver and checking details of this time period against what happened in the novel.  It definitely compelled me to make sure I had "the facts" of this time period absolutely straight in terms of domestic politics in the U.S.  (I've co-taught this period in European history quite a few times, so I'm stronger on that aspect of WWII.)  Plus, I've added a number of Silver's films to my Netflix queue and searched out his other audio CD, Roth's American Pastoral, because I don't want to let him go... While I wait on those, I'm digging through all my West Wing DVDs to re-watch the one's that feature Bruno!

MFB, and RIP Ron Silver,

1 comment:

Sidne,the BCR said...

oh this sounds interesting, will be back to read when not in rush, stopped by to let you know someone else in interested in the poem hop. she is please provide her with the info. so she can join us this sunday.

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