It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis
After A chose 1984 for Book Club in March, F decided to continue our dystopian theme by picking Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here, which has gained national prominence and attention in the last year. I’ve heard that it was an accurate depiction of what is currently happening here in the United States, and I was curious about reading a book that seemed to line up so closely to current events, especially since this tome was written in the 1930s. In the age of Trump, I am sure that so much of our literature is going to explore dark themes and questions of individual and state control.
Bezelius Windrip is a demagogue running for President of the United States. And he wins. People are excited in a feverish rush to become a country of America Only and so they submit to the many extreme behaviors that are emerging from the Windrip camp. The protagonist in this novel is journalist and newspaperman Doremus Jessup, who at first approaches Windrup with optimism and then fear as freedoms slowly ebb away. The novel’s plot follows a structure somewhat similar to 1984’s, even down to an affair with an idolized woman.
Honestly, I did not connect with this book at all. I found quite a few commonalities with our current situation, but reading about something that lined up did not comfort or impress me. Yes, Donald Trump is a demagogue and he’s being influenced by all the wrong people. I’ve been saying this for a year now. The people who voted him in didn’t listen. I think part of my issue is fatigue. I’ve read so much news in the last year that I’m exhausted. And I also feel like this book is going to be read mostly by liberals and intellectuals and not the people who actually need to read this.
Another problem is that the book is limited by the philosophies of its time. And this is specifically in reference to its female characters. They tend to be fairly typecast and limited, and there’s a disturbing rape comment that could only have been written by a man who didn’t need to worry about rape. Like, it’s not maliciously meant, but it’s startling and tone-deaf to read in 2017.
Overall, this was not a great book for me. Your own mileage, as always, may vary.