Friday, August 04, 2017

It Can't Happen Here

It Can't Happen Here. Sinclair Lewis. 1935. 400 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: The handsome dining room of the Hotel Wessex, with its gilded plaster shields and the mural depicting the Green Mountains, had been reserved for the Ladies' Night Dinner of the Fort Beulah Rotary Club.

Premise/plot: Could America become a fascist nation seemingly overnight? That was the question raised in Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen Here. This political what-if novel was published in 1935, a year before the 1936 election. The novel itself begins in 1936; the early chapters chronicle the '36 election. FDR, the current president, is running again, but in Lewis' novel he loses badly. Who wins? A racist, sexist, power-mad politician named Berzelius "Buzz" Windrip. The rest of the novel sees the collapse of America--at least America as a democratic nation. Windrip wins because of his promises; his promises proclaim that he's for the people: that people will have better, richer lives if they vote for him. But it isn't long before people start regretting--deeply regretting--aligning themselves with such a monster.

The main character of the novel is a newspaper man named Doremus Jessup. Jessup opposes Buzz and all he stands for. He sees that America is in deep trouble. He eventually joins a new underground movement, a rebellion. His actions do have consequences. But so would his inaction. I think that's one of the points perhaps: fear of consequences can keep you from acting, but fear doesn't keep you safe--fear doesn't keep the world from falling apart around you.

My thoughts: Did I like this one? Maybe. I didn't really like any of the characters. Jessup wasn't as sympathetic as you might suppose. Human, yes. We see into his family life: meet his mistress, his wife, his daughters, his son-in-law, etc. We learn a little about his religious beliefs, and a lot about his political beliefs. He's far from the ideal man, but, by comparison I suppose he's better than the actual politicians and those swept up in the mad schemes. The novel covers several years....

Why, where in all history has there ever been a people so ripe for a dictatorship as ours! (17)
Summarized, the letter said that he was all against the banks but all for the bankers--except the Jewish bankers, who were to be driven out of finance entirely; that he had thoroughly tested (but unspecified) plans to make all wages very high and the prices of everything produced by these same highly paid workers very low; that he was 100 percent for labor but 100 percent against all strikes; and that he was in favor the United States so arming itself, so preparing to produce its own coffee, sugar, perfumes, tweeds, and nickel instead of importing them, that it could defy the World...and maybe, if that World was so impertinent as to defy America in turn, Buzz hinted, he might have to take it over and run it properly. (57)
His political platforms were only wings of a windmill. (70)
And daily he wanted louder, more convincing Yeses from everybody about him. (340)
Here in Canada the Americans had their Weeping Wall, and daily cried with false, gallant hope, "Next year in Jerusalem!" (368)

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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