In 'the stifling heat of equatorial Newark', a terrifying epidemic is raging, threatening the children of the New Jersey city with maiming, paralysis, life-long disability, even death. This is the startling and surprising theme of Roth's wrenching new book: a wartime polio epidemic in the summer of 1944 and the effect it has on a closely-knit, ...
In 'the stifling heat of equatorial Newark', a terrifying epidemic is raging, threatening the children of the New Jersey city with maiming, paralysis, life-long disability, even death. This is the startling and surprising theme of 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 centre of Nemesis is a vigorous, dutiful, twenty-three-year old playground director, Bucky Cantor, a javelin thrower and a 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 emotion such a pestilence can breed: the fear, the panic, the anger, the bewilderment, the suffering, and the pain. Moving between the smouldering, malodorous streets of besieged Newark and Indian Hill, a pristine children's 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 Cantor's passage into personal disaster and no less exact about the condition of childhood. Through this story runs the dark question that haunts all four of Roth's late short novels, "Everyman", "Indignation", "The Humbling", and now, "Nemesis": what choices fatally shape a life? How powerless is each of us up against the force of circumstances?
Publishers Weekly, 2011-05-30 Roth's compact latest novel rounds out his quartet-Everyman, Indignation, and The Humbling-addressing mortality. WWII-era Newark is in the grip of a rampant polio scare. Bucky Cantor, the fearless, 4F playground director valiantly holds the fort against the disease and protects his charges, until matters take a deadly turn. Dennis Boutsikaris, himself a Newark native, can sound a bit young in parts, sapping the listening of some of the book's dark majesty. But his reading conveys the book's aura, its nostalgia and horror. A Houghton Mifflin Harcourt hardcover. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Publishers Weekly, 2010-08-02 Roth continues his string of small, anti-Horatio Alger novels (The Humbling; etc.) with this underwhelming account of Bucky Cantor, the young playground director of the Chancellor Avenue playground in 1944 Newark. When a polio outbreak ravages the kids at the playground, Bucky, a hero to the boys, becomes spooked and gives in to the wishes of his fiancee, who wants him to take a job at the Pocono summer camp where she works. But this being a Roth novel, Bucky can't hide from his fate. Fast-forward to 1971, when Arnie Mesnikoff, the subtle narrator and one of the boys from Chancellor, runs into Bucky, now a shambles, and hears the rest of his story of piercing if needless guilt, bad luck, and poor decisions. Unfortunately, Bucky's too simple a character to drive the novel, and the traits that make him a good playground director-not very bright, quite polite, beloved, straight thinking-make him a lackluster protagonist. For Roth, it's surprisingly timid. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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