Having failed the army medical because of his weak eyes, Bucky Cantor is organising sports for his New Jersey neighbourhood’s kids in the summer of 1944. The vague peril he feels for friends who have gone to fight is quickly displaced by the more immediate horror of a polio outbreak, which appears suddenly and quickly becomes a local epidemic.
Bucky’s character dominates this short yet punchy novel and, like Philip Roth’s other late works, offers an intense moral interrogation of actions and consequences. Nemesis is charged with an atmosphere of regret: for lives lost or wasted by disease; for stifled potential; for decisions wrongly made. Bucky’s own regrets are compounded by his sense of inadequacy, both for skipping the war and failing to protect his kids from affliction.
Despite its mournful subject matter, Nemesis is a strong, engaging read, richly textured with period New Jersey detail and a central character who grapples with the meaning of his existence.
Nemesis, by Philip Roth, Vintage, RRP£7.99, 280 pages