I’m offering points off this media blow, but only if you give me your corners:
The Plot Against America: An odd little novel. Roth gives an excellent depiction of a country’s slow descent into fascism, starting with an alternate history where Charles Lindbergh is elected President in 1940. He keeps America out of the war in Europe and implements a plan to integrate America’s Jews into mainstream culture. Nothing radical, nothing extreme. Just, y’know, sending Jewish boys between the ages of nine and thirteen to farms out in the South and Midwest so they can get a sense of American culture. Just providing tax breaks to companies that will relocate Jewish employees to offices in the middle of the country, breaking up Jewish ghettos on the East Coast. Little things. Harmless things.
The book does such a monumental job showing how gradual and soothing the descent into nationalism can be that it’s frankly disappointing when Roth abandons that style in the last hundred pages for a half-baked conspiracy theory. Suddenly the villains of the piece are no longer well-meaning bigots or rationalizing fellow travelers, but out and out comic book tyrants. And as a piece of alternate history I think it could stand a little more rigor. Apparently, the landslide election of a nationalist and racist to the Presidency changes none of the history that follows it – America still goes to Vietnam in the 70s, Bobby Kennedy still gets shot in ’68, etc.
Roth’s style of jumping back and forth in the narrative timeline (“three days before von Ribbentrop came to the White House, I was on the playground at school …”) and of introducing characters just in time for their first important scene, rather than laying the groundwork earlier, threw me a little. It’s not bad writing but it’s a little artless.
The Wire: So I had a plan with Trisha L. to only watch S3 with her, so as to prolong the duration of this limited commodity. However, temptation overtook me and I watched the last two hours of S3 on Sunday night. Then I watched the first two hours of S4. And I just watched another hour just now. Yeah, I’m binging, but with everyone in the world having seen S5 to completion except me, I’d rather get up to speed. Watching a generational show like The Wire has a social aspect (chatting it up with like-minded friends) and a personal aspect (the effect it has on you alone), and right now the former outweighs the latter for me.
Observations on S3 in the cut. Don’t click if you don’t want anything spoiled:
When I watched Gone Baby Gone, I was stunned by how completely Amy Adams fell into her role. I might have been less stunned if I’d realized that was Amy Ryan. I recognized her from S2 of The Wire, so my brain automatically dropped her in the “talented actors named Amy whom I recognize” slot without looking. I’m still impressed with her performance regardless – the transformation just seems less shocking to me.
Stringer Bell’s fate had been unwittingly spoiled for me but that just made certain aspects of the penultimate episode more poignant. The directors continue to amaze me with little touches. Like Barksdale and Stringer on the roof deck, recounting the story of when Stringer got caught shoplifting as a kid (“and you runnin’ …”).
It’s amazing how such little changes can make a difference for you. Like seeing McNulty walk a beat with a smile on his face. Or seeing Daniels and Rhonda cuddly in bed. Or seeing Cutty go collect his trainees off the corner. The show’s relentless pessimism beats you down so much and then lets up on the pressure just for a second.