"Nemesis" by Philip Roth (2010)
"They all joined the rabbi in reciting the mourner's prayer, praising God's almightiness, praising extravagantly, unstintingly, the very God who allowed everything, including children, to be destroyed by death. Between the death of Alan Michaels and the communal recitation of the God-glorifying Kadish, Alan's family had had an interlude of some twenty-four hours to hate and loathe God for what He had inflicted upon them - not, of course, that it would have occurred to them to respond like that to Alan's death, and certainly not without fearing to incur God's wrath, prompting Him to wrest Larry and Lenny Michaels from them next."
Philip Roth won the Pulitzer Prize for his 1997 novel, "American Pastoral." He has also written many other notable books, some of which have been adapted into movies. After his recent announcement that he wishes to retire from writing at age 81, "Nemesis" became the last entry in his bibliography.
"Nemesis" is the story of a polio outbreak in and around Newark, New Jersey during World War II. Much of this outbreak is viewed from the perspective of Bucky Cantor, a playground director and recent college graduate. The outbreak begins in Bucky's neighborhood, which sees a disproportionate number of cases, and follows many of Bucky's students beyond the confines of their small community.
"Nemesis" is a great book, and much more accessible than some of Roth's other, weightier tomes. While it didn't hit me as hard as "American Pastoral," it demonstrates a cohesiveness that was absent from that larger, more verbose work. It is also less depressing than "The Humbling," which I also read not long ago.
My only complaint is that the conclusion of the book is somewhat unsatisfying. It's almost as if there are two endings to the book, one next to the other. In one ending we see the narrator confront and question an older Bucky over the course his life has taken, and in the other ending we see Bucky as a young man, in the prime of his youth, passing on to his students a love of sport, which is in some respects a larger love for life. Either of these endings would have been perfectly satisfactory, but putting them together diminishes their respective impact. It's almost as if Roth felt the second ending wasn't enough, and later added the more introspective "interview" portion to make the book seem more important, or its theme more universal.
Nevertheless, I would highly recommend this novel. It is certainly one of the best books I've read in a long time. And don't be put off by the fact that I have seemingly revealed the ending above. The true ending - the conclusion you reach alongside the narrator - is something much deeper than the circumstances that surround this conclusion.