Sinclair Lewis — It Can’t Happen Here

Sinclair Lewis — It Can’t Happen Here book review

It wasn’t the Russians after all. I can exclusively reveal who really interfered with the last U.S. presidential election: a sinister cabal of publishers and literary estates.

Hear me out. Since the election, every bookshop I visit is stocked up with piles of dystopian fiction — 1984, Fahrenheit 451, The Handmaid’s Tale and so forth. So, who has profited most from the election result? Follow the money, sheeple!

The book that has benefited most from renewed interest is probably Sinclair Lewis’s ‘It Can’t Happen Here’ — “The 1935 novel that predicted the rise of Donald Trump” said that and other slightly exaggerating articles. Still, my curiosity was piqued, the bandwagon had room for one more, and I was in the mood for some American fiction. I checked it out.

Yes, it features a Trump-like populist braggart, Buzz Windrip, who runs for U.S. President (for the Democrats, notably). Here, I pause to note that ‘to trump’ is an English slang term for farting, or breaking wind i.e. wind-rip. Spooky or what?

Anyway, what follows is your classic police-state narrative, with local militia bullying a broken and misinformed population, communications being heavily censored, and government talking up the prospect of a patriotic war (with Mexico, Trump-ery fans!). A regional newspaper editor, Doremus Jessup, resolves to stand firm against the forces of totalitarianism, but finds himself facing intolerable pressures all around.

Call me a fascist sympathiser, but I found it hard to keep up much interest in the plight of Doremus. He’s there mostly as a blank recorder for life under the regime, while characters around him are much more developed and fascinating. Still, Lewis keeps the action and tension ticking along nicely. The worst horrors of the story are reported in a chilling factual style, and even though the dialogue is hammy, his writing is generally solid and well-crafted. Not worth rigging an election for, but interesting enough.

Next week: The 1947 short story collection that predicted the rise of having to ask for ‘an americano’ just to get a black coffee.

Writing about music, films and books of note to me. Other stuff (more music, running, Paris) online elsewhere if you Google hard enough. Tweets @aidancurran17

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