A terrifying epidemic is raging, threatening the children of a New Jersey city with maiming, paralysis, even death. This is the startling theme of Nemesis, Philip Roth's wrenching new book: a wartime polio epidemic in the summer of 1944 and the effect it has on a closely knit, family-oriented community. Bucky Cantor, a vigorous, dutiful, 23-year-old playground director, javelin thrower, and weightlifter, is devoted to his charges and disappointed because his weak eyes have excluded him from serving in the war alongside his contemporaries. Focusing on Cantor's dilemmas as polio begins to ravage his playground—and on the everyday realities he faces—Roth leads us through every inch of emotion such a pestilence can breed: the fear, the panic, the anger, the bewilderment, the suffering, and the pain. And through this story runs the dark question that haunts Roth's most recent novels: what choices fatally shape a life? How powerless is each of us up against the force of circumstances?