In Newark, New Jersey, in the early 1940’s, the war is on the back of everyone’s mind; but at the forefront is polio. At center stage is Bucky Canter–a playground director for the (Jewish) neighborhood. As Roth seems to reflect on what it’s like to not know how a disease spreads or what the cure is, it becomes clear that he’s actually articulating the human process of fear. Time and place do not change certain human behaviors–fear is perhaps most constant. Suddenly, when Roth’s characters are talking about polio and where it comes from and how to deal with it, you realize they’re talking about the war, and eventually AIDS and cancer and terrorism. Death and destruction and things we can’t control or understand or stop. Suddenly this is about God, with a capital G, the one we’re so quick to thank when something goes the way we want. But here, when children are fine one day and dead the next, God becomes something to abandon. In the midst of this, Bucky is living his 23-year-old life: leaving the city, chasing a girl. Life goes on in the midst of fear–we find cures, we end wars, we discover something else to be uncertain of.
Support Local Bookstores