The 100 Books Project: It Can’t Happen Here.

>”The Waiting. It became a distinct, tangible thing, as individual and real as Bread or Water. How long would he be in? How long would he be in? Night and day, asleep and waking, he worried it, and by his bunk saw waiting the figure of Waiting, a gray, foul ghost.”

“It Can’t Happen Here” by Sinclair Lewis

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve written one of these, and a good part of the reason for that is the simple fact that, for a three-hundred page book, It Can’t Happen Here takes a long time to read. It might be user error, but, for the most part, I found this semi-satirical foray into American politics and fascism a droll, slow-moving, and underwhelming piece of fiction. Every time I read Babbitt, the only other book by Sinclair Lewis I’ve read so far, I eat it right up; it’s one of my absolute favourites. So many people have recommended I read It Can’t Happen Here, a later piece of Lewis’ from the 1930s that chronicles the political movement of one Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip and his rise to the American presidency, which he swiftly turns into a totalitarian reign, that I chose this volume over some of his earlier works such as Main Street and Arrowsmith and I almost wish I hadn’t.

Perhaps I just never really connected with the book. Perhaps I’m just not very political…coming from a political family and being the “liberal Commie Pinko black sheep” of the bunch, I seem to be unable to really entrench myself in anything too much down those lines. Unless it’s well-written, which I believe It Can’t Happen Here is not. Lewis’ style in this particular book, while perhaps a symptom of the time, is extreme dry, slowly paced, and feels like it had never heard of the phrase “show, don’t tell.” The best parts of the book, the parts I actually quite enjoyed, were the ones where people were actually doing something, instead of when Lewis was chronicling for us all the steps being taken to turn the Land of the Free to the Land of the Oppressed.

There’s no denying that It Can’t Happen Here paints a grisly picture; it’s almost astonishing sometimes, too, how so many things rang true in 1936 that ring true today. (Liberty fries! I kid you not!) The picture Lewis begins to paint is a provocative one, but I feel that his sometimes artless mastery of the material takes away much of the impact. Sometimes, his narrative seems to be so overwrought regarding the material that it brushes by poignancy and moves into over exaggeration and ridiculousness.

I would have liked to have enjoyed this book more, but I simply wish it had been better written and perhaps that maybe it just wasn’t trying so hard.

Maybe I’m just far too jaded, or even too entrenched in the thought that it couldn’t happen here, even if it would be incredibly easy for it to. It is interesting to regard the fact that this was written during the Great Depression, before World War Two, before much of Hitler’s plans were really known, and it strikes a certain eerie chord in that respect. Sometimes when you read it, it just catches you a certain way, but I felt those point were too few and far between.

Books read: 37 out of 100.


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