This is the startling theme of Philip Roth's wrenching new book: a wartime polio epidemic in the summer of 1944 and the effect it has on a closely knit, family-oriented Newark community and its children.
At the center of Nemesis is a vigorous, dutiful 23-year-old playground director, Bucky Cantor, a javelin thrower and weightlifter, who is devoted to his charges and disappointed with himself because his weak eyes have excluded him from serving in the war alongside his contemporaries.
Focusing on Cantor's dilemmas as polio begins to ravage his playground and on the everyday realities he faces, Roth leads us through every inch of the emotions such a pestilence can breed: the fear, the panic, anger, bewilderment, suffering, and pain. Moving between the smoldering, malodorous streets of besieged Newark and Indian Hill, a pristine childrens summer camp high in the Poconos whose "mountain air was purified of all contaminants", Roth depicts a decent, energetic man with the best intentions struggling in his own private war against the epidemic. Roth is tenderly exact at every point about Cantors passage into personal disaster, and no less exact about the condition of childhood.
Through this story runs the dark questions that haunt all four of Roths late short novels, Everyman, Indignation, The Humbling, and now Nemesis: What kind of accidental choices fatally shape a life? How does the individual withstand the onslaught of circumstance?
"Nemesis stands out for its warmth. It is suffused with precise and painful tenderness…. The architecture of Roth's sentences is almost invisibly elegant; not only doesn't one notice the art, one barely notices the sentence, registering instead pure function: meaning, rhythm, intent." (The New York Times Book Review)
"The fourth in the great and undiminished Roth's recent cycle of short novels.... [A]s exceptional as those novels are, this latest in the series far exceeds its predecessors in both emotion and intellect." (Booklist)
"Having the youthful-sounding Dennis Boutsikaris narrate a book written by an older man is an interesting production choice. Philip Roth wrestles with some of the more harrowing themes of aging in his recent work. The story is told from the perspective of a 23-year-old man who is weathering a polio epidemic in 1943. But it is clearly coming from the wisdom and perspective of one of the elders in American letters. This disparity serves the audio production well. Boutsikaris lends a credibility to the novel’s observations and to their source, strengthening the protagonist’s 'voice' while losing none of the wisdom gleaned from the author’s having been there, long ago." (AudioFile)
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