Some critics read Philip Roth’s “Plot Against America” as an allegory of the current White House, and there have even been a few blunt and appalling political fantasies, like Nicholson Baker’s “Checkpoint,” a brief dialogue between a man who wants to assassinate George W. Bush and a friend who wants to talk him out of it. But unlike the ubiquitous nonfiction tub-thumpers, today’s novels rarely take the grubby business of ordinary politics, past or present, as a subject, let alone an activity in which their authors might participate. Contemporary party politics, which once inspired writers as different as James Fenimore Cooper, Mark Twain and Robert Penn Warren, is terra incognita. The separation of church and state is hotly contested; the separation of literature and state seems to have become absolute.
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