It Can’t Happen Here

There’s a good story in here somewhere. The premise is intriguing. What would’ve happened had a populist presidential candidate, who campaigned on the promise that he would give the lower classes exactly what they wanted, had won the 1936 presidential election? The result is a watered-down version of Nazi Germany in Sinclair Lewis’s “It Can’t Happen Here. Happen

This book has seen a boon in sales recently, seeing as how we have elected a populist president who’s given the lower-classes (i.e. blue-collar Whites) what they wanted. The difference is that so far the checks on power have not failed and we have not devolved into tyranny. While the political consequences of the book have no come true, I understand why some would want to read about a book that warned against this type of political upheaval; it’s a good cautionary tale. What doesn’t work is the vehicle Lewis uses to carry his idea in.

We bounce around from Doremus Jessup, a rural Vermont newspaper editor, and the cadre of despots in Washington. The plot of the book reads like a movie you may have seen on TCM or the like. It’s set in the 1930’s and the actors can’t decide whether they are going to stick with melodrama or devolve into stand-up comedy. It wasn’t clear to me whether Lewis was trying to keep the book from becoming to heavy by adding in the random comedic attempts or whether he just didn’t know how to write characters that are complex.

The protagonist, Jessup, reminded me a lot of “1984”‘s Winston accept that Jessup is not as misogynistic, nor as poor-me as Winston. At the same time, my eyes are still sore from the many eye-rolls when Jessup complains that he just wishes he could spend more time with mistress in order to escape all of his wife’s flippant comments about American politics.

I’m also not convinced that Lewis wasn’t a hermit. A lot of the dialogue seems flat as if everyone is reading the script some seventh grade wrote about mobsters. The worst offenses occured whenever Shad Ledue would try and make a pass at Sissy. If men really talked like that, and women really responded as she did, I’m shocked that humanity has been able to survive.

Ok, enough savagery. Read this book if you dare, but maybe read it in installments with something more exciting in between to cleanse your literary palate.

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