Friday, October 12, 2012

Quickie Book Review: It Can't Happen Here

by Sinclair Lewis

I try my best not to discuss politics of any kind on my blog. Not that I don't have strong opinions about the government, social issues, taxes, and so on, but when it comes to their discussion, I tend to lose any sense of eloquence, and the resulting words are a hodgepodge of ideas. Others speak and write about such topics with a much keener and precise style. Plus, I should stick to fiction and little vignettes of what goes on my world.

With the debates being at the forefront of the news, though, I decided to finally read my copy of Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen Here, his glimpse into what life in 1930s America might be like should a political figure the likes of Hitler somehow be voted into the highest office in the United States.

The "hero", if you will, of the story is Doremus Jessup, a newspaperman by profession who follows the political rise of Berzelius Windrip. His rise to the presidency begins with radio broadcasts supporting him from a prominent radio evangelist, along with speeches crated to make Windrip appear as a true man of the people, wanting the same things as the common worker; Doremus and his group of friends listen in astonishment as Windrip's popularity grows. But when Windrip wins the election, his changes are swift, and America finds itself confronted with the same ideals as those that rushed through Germany only a few years before -- though Windrip and his cabinet called them by other names, trying to distance themselves from any correlation to those politics.

With the new era of governmental control of the United States, state borders are redrawn, freedom of speech is censored, a new "army of the common man" comes into being to enforce the new laws and policies (though it's peopled with thugs and criminals and lowlifes). The years slowly move forward, with average people being thrown into concentration camp-like institutions, with the majority of citizens out of work, but Doremus and a few others finally decided to take a stand against Windrip and his dictatorship.

It Can't Happen Here is a very dark and sobering novel, and in the political climate of today, I couldn't help but draw comparisons to the way events are shaping up in 2012. I find it amazing how something written almost 100 years ago can hold such relevance today, even though it's fictional. But great fiction always dares to ask the "what if..." questions, which makes this an incredible -- and sometimes scary -- book to read.

It Can't Happen Here
by Sinclair Lewis
NAL Trade
trade paperback, 400 pgs.
purchased book

"Poster for Detroit Federal Theatre Project presentation of 'It Can't Happen Here' by Sinclair Lewis at the Lafayette Theatre, showing a stylized Adolf Hitler carrying a rifle standing behind a map of the United States and a fist in a raised-arm salute." {{PD-USGov-WPA}}. Copyright holder:


Ur-spo said...

these sort of books (The Handmaid's Tale) make me shudder. I supposed I 'should' read them but They make me uncomfortable.

Ur-spo said...

i was not aware of this book but will seek it out. Was it adapted for the stage? (the pic looks like a theater poster).

Harper's Keeper said...

Ooops = that last comment (about stage adaptation) was me; no Spo...we have to stop sharing a laptop.

Greg said...

Harper's Keeper: I checked online, and it appears that the novel was adapted for the stage in 1936.