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a platform on which a form of historical thought attuned both for

the contingency of the past and the plasticity of the future is

dialectically performed. Given its speculation on “roads not taken”,

as well as its increasing concern with possible roads that should be

taken in the future, Rovner




points out, counterfactual fiction

is structured along two narrative possibilities, the “what could have

been” and the “what must have been.”


The interfusing of these two

narrative movements

a backward-looking movement and a

forward-looking one

thus demands the reading of the

counterfactual novel contrapuntally, recognizing in its insistence on

contingency a desire to free itself from the burden of historical

inevitability while simultaneously unearthing, behind its valorization

of the exceptional, both a nostalgia for a different now and a

yearning for a just future.

For Roth, however, the digression into the counterfactual


the possibility that the US could have elected as president

the arch-conservative and anti-Semitic Charles Lindberg and begun

to persecute Jews during WWII, seems marked by a nostalgia for a

factual “now”

world peace is only possible when the US assumes

its guardianship

that reinforces the sovereignty of the US in the

global power structure. In Roth’s novel, it is Americans’ collective

amnesia of the young country’s proclaimed exceptionality as the

“leader the free world” that constitutes its naïve child narrator’s

“perpetual fear” of the unforeseen. Chabon’s novel, in contrast,

challenges America’s image of itself as an ideal democratic nation,

while exposing the ideology of American exceptionalism as its

rationale for imposing and defending, through violent means, the

American way of life across the globe. Chabon’s rewriting of history,


While most scholars claim that counterfactual fiction explores the question of

“what may have happened” if a foundational event should have gone awry, Adam

Rovner argues that a serious impulse actually lies within this seemingly indulgence

in the “what if.” He points out that this body of literature “exhume[s] the it-could-

have-been-otherwise” that is buried “beneath an it-must-have-been-so” (2011: 149)

in order to reconcile “chance” with “determinism” as the determining force in the

making of history.