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Philip Roth: The Great American Novel

First of all, this is not a/the Great American Novel. Not even close. But then Roth did not, of course, intend it to be. What it is, is a very funny book about sport and the Great Communist Conspiracy, two very favorite American subjects. I am not a great baseball fan but, I must say, of all the sports, baseball seems to have lent itself to novels better than other sports and this novel is definitely one example.

The story concerns the Patriot League, the third major baseball league. In particular, it follows the hapless Ruppert Mundys, a former great team fallen on hard times. It is 1943 and the government needs their field as a transshipment field for soldiers going to Europe (and the owners see a way of making a quick buck) so the poor Ruppert Mundys have to play all their games away from home. In addition, as it is war, they cannot find good players so they use anyone they can find, including a man with a wooden leg, a one-armed man, a dwarf and a player who could only hit when drunk. This book is about their failure as a baseball team as well as about Communist infiltration of the league, leading to its demise, death and its being written out of history. The story is told by Word Smith, known as Smitty (Call me Smitty, the book starts as Roth pays homage to the real Great American Novels). Roth has great fun, with every baseball joke you can think of, as well as parodies galore and mock games, mock scores, mock parades and a mock novel. It is highly readable and highly enjoyable but the Great American Novel it ain’t.

Publishing history

First published 1973 by Henry Holt