Summer, 1944. In the 'stifling heat of equatorial Newark', a terrifying epidemic is raging, threatening the children of the New Jersey city with maiming, paralysis, life-long disability, even death. Vigorous, decent, twenty-three year old playground director Bucky Cantor is devoted to his charges and disappointed with himself because his weak eyes have excluded him from serving in the war. As polio begins to ravage Bucky's playground, 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.
Through this story runs the dark question that haunts all four of Roth's late short novels, Everyman, Indignation, The Humbling, and now, Nemesis: what choices fatally shape a life? How powerless is each of us up against the force of circumstances?